The commissioners of big league baseball and basketball and the owner of the Washington Bullets and Capitals have been wooing Rep. Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va.) as if he were a free agent superstar.
Fisher, at 64, is an exceptional tennis player and avid canoeist, but it is not because of his athletic skills that he is being courted by commissioners Bowie Kuhn (baseball), Larry O'Brien (basketball) and Bullets-Capitals owner Abe Pollin.
What Fisher has that the moguls of professional sport want is his vote on the House Ways and Means Committee. Fisher and his 36 colleagues on the committee have it within their power to retain the committee have it within their power to retain or eliminate tax deductions for business expenses such as renting Sky suites at Pollin's Capital Centre.
"I don't want to do anything to discourage private construction of such arenas," said Fisher, who added that Pollin emphasized that he has "put together the financing under laws as they existed and thought they would continue."
One of the Sky suites is rented to John Koons Jr. of JKJ Chevrolet, a Fisher constituent from Northern Virginia. Koons, who didn't contact Fisher, was asked if he would continue to dish out the $25,000 rent if he couldn't claim a tax deduction for it.
"Probably not," said Koons, who makes the suite available to employes of the auto agency rather than to entertain clients. Eliminating the deduction would "double my costs," Koons said, "so we'd have to look awfully hard at whether we could afford to continue it as an employe benefit."
Frank R. Wolf, the "moderate conservative" Arlington lawyer who will be Fisher's Republican opponent in the November election, believes Fisher's record on taxation will be "the major issue" in the campaign.
Fisher generally supports the tax reforms proposed by President Carter. But under pressure from sports and entertainment personalities (actress Carol Channing is making a similar pitch about box seats at the Kennedy Center), Fisher appears to be waffling.
Tax reform purists were shocked when Fisher cosponsored legislation that would permit all taxpayers to claim a deduction for contributions to charity, whether or not they itemized deductions, an action that could cost the federal treasup $3.6 billion a year.
Then after his meeting Friday with Pollin, which was arranged by Rep. Gladys Noon Spellman (D-Md.), Fisher said he would consider supporting compromises that might "grandfather in" business expenses deductions or only phase them out over a period of years.
Fisher said Pollin told him that without the $1 million a year income generated by the 40 carpeted and wallpapered Sky suites, he would not have been able to get the financing needed to build the arena in Prince George's Country.
Wolf said he will attack Fisher's opposition to tuition credits for parents of private school students. Although Wolf sends his five children to Fairfax County public schools, he said he strongly favors tax credits for parents of children in private schools at all levels, elementary, secondary and college.
The charitable contributions amendment to the tax code, which Fisher cosponsored with Rep. Barber Conable (R-N.Y.), ranking minority member of Ways and Means, squeaked through the committee by a single vote. To make up for the loss in revenue, estimated at $1 billion to $3.6 billion, Fisher said he would "just cut other taxes less."
He defends the amendment as "a matter of social philosophy." Voluntary support of charities is "a valuable, precious element" of American society and "a deep part of my life," Fisher explained. As an economist before his election to Congress in 1974, Fisher developed close ties with the Ford Foundation and other charitable organizations, and has been the chief lay leader of his church, the Unitarian-Universalist Association.
Two liberals who sit near Fisher on Ways and Means, and ordinarily have high praise for him, are among those who voted against the Fisher-Conable amendment. Rep. Andrew Jacobs (D-Ind.) said "The standard deduction already comtemplates a charitable deduction. This would benefit guys who wouldn't give a nickel to a blind man." Rep. Abner Mikva (D-Ill.) called it "ill-advised."
Fisher disagrees, saying recent inducements that have caused more taxpayers to take the standard deductions have "tended to discourage giving." While the very rich and very poor wouldn't benefit from his amendment, "a good target group would - those salt-of-the-earth types who support the church and United Way. We would gain more in charitable giving that we would lose in tax revenues," Fisher believes.
He said his proposal "won't satisfy those who value simplification of the tax form above all else," and those who equate tax reform with additional revenue, but "to me, the essence of tax reform is the improvement of equity."
The Fisher-Conable amendment "sure did disappoint us," said Bill Pietz of Ralph Nader's Congress Watch."That one's so bad some of the liberals on the committee say they won't vote for the (tax reform) bill if that turkey isn't taken off."
Pietz was quick to add, however, that the amendment is "a deviation from Fisher's normally excellent pattern. He's one of the best members of the committee. Able, effective, well intentioned. When he's on your side, it sure helps."
Thomas J. Reese, legislative director of Taxation With Representation, and Arlington-based lobbying group, rated Fisher's performance on tax issues last year as "ambivalent." Fisher voted "correct" on 14 of 22 votes in the Ways and Means committee in 1977, giving him a 59 percent mark, which was slightly above the average committee Democrat's score of 50, and the total committee average of 44.
Looking at his eight "wrong" votes, Fisher noted that five of them related to his opposition to putting federal workers' retirement benefits under Social Security.
Fisher also voted "wrong," according to the Taxation group, by favoring tax credits for homeowners who install insulation, a position that Fisher said "reflects my desire for energy conservation, which takes precedence over tax saving."
During the 94th Congress, when the question of whether federal workers should be placed under Social Security was not paramount, Fisher had a better record with the Taxation group. He voted "right" 75 percent of the time on 63 issues, and ranked 10th best among the 39 members who served on Ways and Means in 1975 and 1976.
If Fisher, with a doctorate in economics from Harvard and a liberal tradition, has been a disappointment to some tax reform purists, he has been something less than a hero to those on the other side also.
A. V. Smyth, Washington vice president of the Weyerhaeuser Co., complained that Fisher's staff was "very protective of him," and that he was unable to see the Arlington Democrat "until I reminded them of our past support for him."
Smyth said that when he finally saw Fisher, "we didn't get his support" on removing the minimum tax on capital gains. He said Fisher acknowledged "it is a surtax, but said it was symbolically important" because "the little guy thinks without it corporations would get away without any tax."
Andy Synchula, a former Washington Redskins lineman who now is a Vienna insurance broker, complained that "the man wouldn't commit himself" on the proposed change that is most objectionable to Stynchula and his clients, a change would require employers to offer uniform benefits to all employes.
Stynchula said he gave a report on his meeting with Fisher to the Vienna Rotary Club, and the members were "violently mad" at Fisher's position.
Fisher's own view on tax reform is that the committee will approve a tax reduction that is "something less than the president or I favored, but will retain some reforms. It will be good for the country, and good for me politically."