At the elegant Dolder Grand Hotel in Zurich on a recent weekend, more than 200 politicians, bankers and businessmen from Europe, the United States and Japan sat down for a nonstop gabfest on weighty international economic issues: what to do about volatile exchange rates, international debt and a potential global recession.
These men (and a few women) put in three long working days -- including a 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday session -- even though the privately financed conference had no official status, would send no recommendations to parliaments or heads of state and had been abandoned at the last minute by one of its advertised main attractions -- Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III.
How does one account for the attention given by busy government officials and private executives to such an unofficial seminar, the brainchild of two issues-oriented Washington promotors, 32-year-old David M. Smick, a Republican, and 34-year-old Richard Medley, a Democrat?
"Smick and Medley do a lot of log-rolling," said a congressional staffer. "They travel to Japan and Europe, and say, 'So-and-so is coming, you should be there.' Then they go to the next place and repeat the process."
Under the bipartisan sponsorship of Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) -- two potential presidential candidates -- the Zurich conference, and one that preceded it in November, were billed as a chance to meet and mingle with some important officials, such as Baker, the new star on the international economic scene.
In a sense, the Smick-Medley "chutzpah" is their self-appointment as information intermediaries between the government and the private sector on international economic issues, with their well-organized "summits" the vehicle to carry out their role. Everyone in Zurich seemed perfectly well aware of this perhaps self-serving assumption -- but that didn't stop them from coming.
Present for the entire three days were Sony Corp. President Akio Morita; French central bank governor Michel Camdessus; Hans Tietmeyer, a top policy maker at the West German Ministry of Finance; Japanese vice minister of finance Toyoo Gyohten; IMF Interim Committee Chairman and Dutch finance minister H. Onno Ruding; New York Federal Reserve Bank President Gerald Corrigan, and many other central and private bankers and well-known economists.
West German central bank president Karl Otto Poehl -- next to the Fed's Paul A. Volcker, probably the most important central bank chief in the world -- arrived for a major speech on the final day.
At almost the last minute, Baker dropped off the Zurich list, and his absence resulted in some cancellations; still, there was a respectable group of influential persons -- especially European and Japanese officials.
But in addition to the opportunity to rub shoulders with movers and shakers, the Zurich meeting offered another attraction: it was set up as the "International Parliamentary Working Round on Exchange Rates and Coordination," a recognition that Congress and other national parliaments are playing an increasingly important role in shaping economic policies.
Makoto Utsumi, newly appointed director general of the Japanese Finance Ministry's international finance bureau, explained his presence in Zurich by saying: "American policy often originates in Congress. This gives us a chance to follow this element of American policy making."
The World Bank, left out in November, solicited an invitation from Smick for Zurich, and there joined representatives from the International Monetary Fund and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. GATT Director-General Arthur Dunkel was one of the featured speakers.
The conference mechanics of a Smick-Medley production are unique. Although it sounds unwieldy, as many as 25 or 30 at a time out of a participating "core group" of 75 are involved in a two-hour session: eight speakers are budgeted for eight-minute "presentations" followed by two-minute "spontaneous interventions" by another 15. Smick and Medley shuffle the cast of characters throughout the three days, until all have spoken more than once.
Bradley and Kemp push their own pet ideas (Bradley launched a new initiative on Third World debt), and both participate in the "core group" debates. Everything is on the record, and reporters are free to follow up for their own interviews.
"You've got to give Smick and Medley credit. They've taken these topics out of the realm of academia to the level of the political and practical," said Robert Hormats, former State Department official and now a Goldman Sachs & Co. partner.
Smick and Medley's political expertise was developed primarily on Capitol Hill, where Smick -- a Baltimore Democrat turned Republican -- was Kemp's chief of staff from 1979 to 1984, and Medley was chief economist for the Democratic majority on the House Banking Committee. In the 1984 presidential campaign, Medley was a senior member of vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro's staff.
When they observed that Baker -- pursuing the same pattern he followed as White House chief of staff -- "played all his cards close to the vest in Treasury," Smick and Medley decided that there was an information vacuum on international financial affairs. They formed Smick-Medley & Associates Inc., a consulting and public relations firm, to fill the gap.
Their contacts on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill appear to be good. Medley also claims a wide range of friends at the Federal Reserve, stemming back to when he was "chief Fed watcher and financial analyst" for Democrats on the Hill from 1980 to 1984. Smick's relations with the Reagan team go back to the 1980 presidential campaign. He met Baker while helping to work out the legislative strategy for the Kemp-Roth tax bill in 1981.
Baker, who had successfully introduced the idea of a managed exchange rate system to replace freely floating rates at the May Tokyo economic summit, initially saw the Smick-Medley Zurich conference as a way of maintaining momentum for his Tokyo initiative.
The two young promotors quickly dubbed Zurich "the political flip side of the Tokyo summit . . . the only realistic, non-official counterthrust to the protectionist firestorm now raging through the industrial world."
Then, Baker had second thoughts: a good number of the "core group" Smick and Medley invited to Zurich would be from parties out of power in Europe -- for example, well-known political figures such as Shirley Williams of the British Social Democratic Party; Lord Harold Lever, a prominent critic of Baker's debt initiative; and several Bundestag members opposing the ruling coalition in Bonn. Baker's opposite numbers from Japan and West Germany did not agree to attend.
So Baker backed off.
Baker also decided not to send Deputy Secretary Richard Darman or Assistant Secretary David C. Mulford.
This was an obvious blow to Smick's and Medley's expectations. But in their June 23 newsletter, Baker's absence was now trumpeted as a plus, allowing European leaders to speak their minds and not be overshadowed by the American Treasury boss.
Never discouraged, Smick and Medley gamely argued in a post-mortem sent to clients that "international monetary reform is not dead, but is like a patient in intensive care." They called on President Reagan to start "a full-scale resuscitation effort at Secretary Baker's direction.