Like a coach exhorting his team before the big game, the president of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, yesterday told more than 300 business executives that they must become much more active in the Washington area's political campaigns this year and not view them "as some sort of local spectator sport."
R. Robert Linowes, a real estate lawyer who became active in city business affairs four years ago, said that "involvement in (the political) process by people like ourselves is as important as anything we will ever do with our best business hats on."
He said that business officials could not hope to influence decisions in the community if they did not also work in political campaigns and contribute money to them.
Linowes told a reporter after the speech that he thinks "the business community is in a holding pattern" on the crucial Sept. 12 Democratic mayoral primary, waiting to make its contributions when it has a better idea which one of the three major candidates is ahead, what programs and positions the candidates would endorse once in office and "who they get advice from."
"We're going to insist on substance if there's going to be support," Linowes said.
All three major Democratic mayoral candidates - Mayor Walter E. (See LINOWES, C8, Col. 1) (LINOWES, From C1) Washington City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker and council member Marion Barry - are trying to raise $200,000 or more for their campaigns. Four years ago, in the city's first mayoral campaign under the limited home rule granted by Congress, Washington collected large sums from business people, and his chief opponent, Clifford Alexander, garnered much of his campaign treasury from out-of-town sources.
The fact that Washington, Tucker and Barry are now all trying to raise money locally "makes it more difficult," according to Tucker. "We all have to go to the same sources."
Barry has collected $100,000 so far and Tucker about $115,000. The Washington campaign, which officially opened two weeks ago, declined to reveal a figure.
A Barry aide said about 20 percent of his campaign funds have come from business people. Tucker said that much of the money his campaign has raised "might be called new money," donations made by contributors who previously have not contributed to local candidates, "In that regard we've done fairly well," he said.
But he added that "the traditional business community downtown has not gotten involved so far" in making large donations to the mayoral candidates.
Several business executives have said they expect Wahs.
Several business executives have said they expect washington and Tucker to get the bulk of donations from business executives, with Barry getting a smaller share.
Linowes' pitch for contributions to the Board of Trade's political action committee marked the latest chapter in the conservative business group's effort to reshape its image as an organization that is a concerned with the region as a whole as it is with its own self-interest.
Linowes chided the group for its insular nature in past campaigns, noting that lists of candidates' stands on issues have olny been circulated within the group "for our own gratification.
"The only thing that is more unproductive than talking to yourself is talking to someone else like yourself who already agrees with you," Linowes told the luncheon gathering at the Mayflower Hotel.
Linowes said after the speech that the Board of Trade's first-ever political action committee is currently raising money from the group's members. He said there was "no question" but what the D.C. committee would raise at least $18,000, an amount that would permit the group to contribute the maximum allowed ($1,000 to $2,000) to one candidate in each of the City Council races and for mayor. Similar committees are raising money to contribute to candidates in Virginia and Maryland races.
In addition, Linowes said, the Board of Trade is drafting questionnaires for candidates, mostly on economic issues, that the group plans to distribute to its own members and publicly, such as in shopping centers.
Linowes said his pep talk to the group was necessitated by the fact that "the business communnity is still ambivalent about getting involved. They've fundamentally and understandably afraid" to get involved in political campaigns, in part because of campaign financing abuses by usinessmen that occurred during the Watergate scandal.
Foster Shannon, president of the Shannon and Luchs real estate company and a former Board of Trade president, said bluntly that business people here are "lethargic, still naive" about participation in the political process.
He said some business executives think that "politicians think the businessman is a bad guy, especially if he makes a profit."
With that attitude, Shannon said, many corporate officials feel "it's easier not to get involved."
Several other groups, however, have formed Political action committees this year to make donations to mayoral and council candidates, including the District of Columbia Bankers Association, the Washington Board of Realtors, the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., the Medical Society of the District of Columbia and the District of Columbia DentalSociety.