It is hard to find anyone here in the business community who shares political Washington's concerns about how material prepared for President Carter reached the Reagan staff during the 1980 election campaign.
A highly informal survey of executives, public relations types, Wall Street gnomes and others in recent weeks indicates little interest in the saga and even considerable bewilderment that the tale is of interest to the federal government and congressional investigators.
As a result, it's not too difficult to understand why Reagan campaign officials barely lifted an eyebrow when the Carter papers wound up in their laps. For the most part, the Reagan workers made their mark in the hurly burly business world. In that environment, they rarely thought about the possibility of congressional committees and the news media inquiring into how they made vital decisions.
Business executives don't operate under the Freedom of Information Act. They rarely hold press conferences. Interviews in the corporate community here are scheduled, for the most part, when the boss has something to sell, usually a new product, hot stock, a corporate turnaround or a major shift in strategy that his public relations aide wants played in the national business media. In short, there's a protective vacuum that surrounds the nation's leading business figures and insulates them from public discussion of their ethical motivations.
Just ask executives what their response would be if their leading competitor's 1984 marketing strategy plan--tucked in an unmarked brown envelope delivered by the U.S. Postal Service--found its way to the in-box.
For the most part, the responses in such a survey ranged from "I'd send it up to my boss with my personal stationery as a cover note" to "I'd close the door and read each and every word."
Typical of the answers was the one proffered just the other day by a top executive of a major international bank. His answer was brief and to the point: "I'd read it and then make copies."
Some participants in The Washington Post survey would, like CIA chief William Casey, worry about either the authenticity of the documents or the motivations behind the leaks. Most could care less.
A leading figure in the Wall Street whirl says that just about anyone he knows in that world would have funneled any worthy piece of paper they could have gotten their hands on over to the Republican crowd. "As in bridge, one peak is worth two finesses," he observed.
That's one kind of reaction from this informal survey. A one-time journalist, now in a top corporate post, tells the story of how a government leak of some consequence made his career in the news business, brought his work to the attention of a leading policymaker and eventually boosted him into a series of top government jobs and later into corporate America. In light of that experience, he wonders how outraged he's entitled to be about the briefing book matter.
Another leading New York corporate figure, one with some background in Washington affairs, also doesn't think much of what's been disclosed so far about the scandal. And he acknowledges that few people in the Manhattan business elite think much of the affair. "Everyone I talk to thinks it's a cheap joke," he said.
This executive--an individual with close ties to some earlier administrations--believes, however, that there's more to the matter than meets the eye. But he also concedes the fact that there's an entirely different ethical standard at play in Washington than in the private sector and admits he'd be likely to read unsolicited documents about the competition's plans without a great deal of hesitancy.
But many on Wall Street, like others hesitant to talk for public quotation about their own ethical standards, say they'd do just about anything short of thievery and murder to get an edge on the market.
"Wall Street is still a jungle with cement canyons," said one investment strategist. "This is the last bastion of capitalism and anything goes."
It's not that hard, then, to understand why the business-trained staff that ran the Reagan campaign ran with the Carter papers. They learned their trade in a world far from the one that revolves around the Federal Triangle.