The Democratic National Committee has budgeted $225,000 and is recruiting lawyers to keep independent candidate John B. Anderson off the presidential ballot in as many states as possible this fall.
"We're going to look at every state and, if it's appropriate to be active, we'll be active," said Ronald Eastman, the party's general counsel.
Ironically, the Republican Party plans no such action against the Illinois Republican. Gop chairman Bill Brock has decided "our fight is on the ballot, not the courtroom," said spokesman Mike Baroody. "We want to outcampaign Anderson, not outmaneuver him in the courtroom.
The stated purpose of the DNC legal effort is to "protect the integrity of the direct primary system." But it is also clearly directed at protecting Jimmy' Carter, whose reelection changes are threatened by Anderson's independent candidacy.
The effort is being made at the request of the Carter reelection campaign. Its intensity is in marked contrast to the official White House line on Anderson -- that he is a fringe candidate hardly worth bothering about.
For anyone to think Anderson has a chance of being elected would be "a fantasy," presidential press secretary Jody Powell said last week in announcing Carter's refusal to debate Anderson or any other "third, fourth or fifth party candidates."
"A quarter million dollars. That's pretty expensive for a fantasy," George Frampton, cocounsel for the Anderson campaign, said yesterday. "I don't know how you reconcile spending that much money on a fantasy."
The national party will try to avoid being named in any legal actions, according to Eastman, a Carter loyalist who favors state Democratic organizations or individuals, backed financially by the DNC, taking the public lead in cases.
"One of my big concerns is not to make a martyr out of John Anderson," he said. "This all has to be handled gingerly so we don't have the whole thing boomerang."
To date, Anderson, who dropped out of the Republican presidential race to run as an independent, has gained a spot on only three state ballots -- Utah, New Jersey and Kansas. Supporters have filed signatures to place him on ballots in four other states -- Michigan, West Virginia, North Carolina and Massachusetts -- but officials in those states have yet to certify him as a candidate.
In five other states, filing deadlines for getting on the November ballot passed before Anderson became an independent on April 24. His campaign has filed a challenge to the ballot deadline on Ohio and is considering doing so in the other four -- New Mexico, Maryland, Maine and Kentucky.
Anderson in recent weeks had reorganized his staff and mounted a major direct mail fund-raising effort. He has raised $1.6 million of the $12 million to $14 million strategists feel necessary to mount a respectable campaign against the Republican and Democratic party nominees, each of whom will receive $29.4 million in federal campaign funds.
About $50,000 a day is being received, according to Anderson direct mail expert Tom Mathews, who has sent out 750,000 appeals to date. Another two million letters are scheduled to go out between now and mid-July. A series of television appeals, produced by media adviser David Garth, are to begin in July, at time of the Republican National Convention.
In other developments yesterday:
Anderson announced he is planning a trip to Europe this summer, most likely between the Republican and Democratic national conventions, to meet government leaders there.
No stops have been acheduled, but the heads of state in Britain, West Germany and France will soon be asked to meet with the independent.
The trip is designed to give Anderson public visibility when attention would otherwise be forcused on the Republican and Democratic nominees.
Mary Crisp, cochairman of the Republican National Committee, denied a report in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times that she had endorsed Anderson.
Crisp said she remains neutral in the race and intends to support her party's nominee. Nowever, she priased Anderson as "a good Republican who has given firm leadership in Congress," and criticized Ronald Reagan, the likely Gop nominee, for opposing the Equal Rights Amendment and legalized abortion.
She expressed concern that Reagan forces will drop support for the ERA from the GOP's 1980 platform. "We've had that plank in the platform since 1972, and it would be a mistake to remove it now. It concerns all the women in this country," she said. "We're a minority party and we need it to win.
"I'm not a flake," she added. "I care very deeply about the party."
Anderson supports the ERA.