Readers of a bimonthly newsletter published by Smithy Braedon Co. of Washington were reassured in a recent article by the company's president, James L. Eichberg, that "business and politics do mix."
Just in case there are any doubts about that maxim, Eichberg wrote that the business community has proved its effectiveness in the past as a "political force." And now, he added, it's time to do it again.
Nothing illegal can be inferred from that. Both Eichberg and Smithy Braedon, a leading Washington real estate services firm, have solid reputations in and outside the business community.
Eichberg's appeal to the business community to become involved in local elections is only part of an increasingly activist movement within the private sector. The Greater Washington Board of Trade, the area's biggest business advocacy organization, has been the prime mover in this regard. Notwithstanding its advocacy program, other groups and individual business leaders are developing their own strategies for greater involvement in the political arena.
In a recent unabashed show of how to mix business and politics, influential members of Washington's business community set the tone for the upcoming D.C. elections by underwriting a $1,000-a-plate breakfast for Mayor Marion Barry. It was, in effect, the opening ceremony for the 1986 version of ballots and bucks.
"Once again, an election year is upon us," Eichberg wrote in the Smithy Braedon newsletter. "Incumbent politicians are recounting the virtues of their years in office and pursuing commitments to their constituencies with renewed vigor. Their challengers are out shaking hands, assembling supporters and developing platforms."
On this, Eichberg appeared to be more subtle than some of his peers in the local business community. "We must now consider issues which control the future of our region and become integrally involved in the 1986 electoral process," Eichberg allowed. But "financial contributions are not enough," he emphasized. "The business community must also volunteer its vocal support to candidates who are committed to reducing government expenditures, who understand the impact increasing real estate taxes and rising workmen's compensation rates have on the cost of doing business, and who appreciate the impact of economic development in our region."
In remarks that he made shortly after being elected president of the Board of Trade earlier in the year, Peter O'Malley put it more succinctly.
The Board of Trade has four political action committees through which contributions to the campaigns of political candidates will be made "with a watchful eye toward those who understand and are sensitive to business interests and needs," O'Malley declared.
The BOT said in its annual report this year that business interests in Greater Washington "won an important decision" when the organization and other industry groups "succeeded in modifying" the District's rent control law. The BOT further noted that it succeeded in preventing several rent control proposals from being placed on the ballot.
Those were just two of the legislative victories recorded by local business interests last year, primarily through the board's commerce and industry political action committees (COMPACS). According to Eichberg, one of the best ways to become involved in the political process is through political action committees (PACS).
PACs aren't unique to metropolitan Washington, of course. These hybrids have become highly effective and powerful political forces for business interests in local, state and national elections over the years, proving that business and politics do mix.
As taxpayers, industry groups have every right to insist that elected officials work to support a favorable business climate. And, as Eichberg notes, every member of the business community "has an obligation, regardless of political persuasion, to be part of the democratic process."
The democratic process is precisely the issue that appears to be in question, nevertheless, as industry PACs become bigger factors in elections and in the legislative process.
Business and politics do mix. It's when big business' bucks begin to cancel the power of the ballot that the mixture threatens the democratic process.
It's something for local politicians to keep in mind as they recount the "virtues of their years in office" and as they develop platforms for upcoming elections.