Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer was not happy when legislators cut money for a tax study commission he appointed, but he knew where to turn. The state's business leaders got the call, and the donations came rolling in.

"We exceeded the target," said Schaefer aide Daryl C. Plevy, who helped raise the corporate contributions. "It was not very difficult at all . . . . When the governor asks them for money, they generally are supportive."

Whether it's cash for a tax commission, a pet tourism project, a fountain at the governor's mansion or his reelection campaign, the lesson is clear: When Schaefer talks, business listens.

And vice versa. During his four years in office, Schaefer has been the state's premier corporate booster and is among the most activist governors in advocating the state's role in economic development. His economic programs have underwritten unprecedented amounts of loans, built corporate headquarters for companies and pursued ever more aggressive -- and risky -- forms of investment. They include programs in which the state provides equity capital for small businesses -- as opposed to helping secure bank loans -- and formation of a $2 million venture capital fund to help develop and market new technology.

Schaefer has pushed through pro-business legislation that has secured corporate breaks on workers' compensation insurance, protection from lawsuits for business executives and state intervention in the Port of Baltimore that strained the governor's recuperating relations with organized labor.

It is no surprise that Schaefer's administration has been pro-business. Throughout his career, he has put jobs, investment and cultivation of a good business climate high on his priority list; his alliances with the state's top business leaders, key contributors to his estimated $2.5 million campaign fund this year, testify to his sincerity on that issue.

Maryland and D.C. AFL-CIO President Edward Mohler gave Schaefer credit for opening his door to labor organizations that backed opponent Stephen Sachs in the 1986 Democratic primary, but said the results during the governor's term have been mixed. The takeover of the port, triggered by an International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union strike, was only one instance.

His administration has been "a classic example of some good and some bad," said Mohler, whose union has endorsed the governor this time. "We have had our differences, but the governor has never shut the door."

Schaefer's role in helping business is perhaps best exemplified by the series of foreign trade missions he has led during the past four years, including a whirlwind courtesy call to Taiwan to mend fences with a shipping executive Schaefer said was once offended by another Maryland leader.

Sometimes, Schaefer's business deals seem to conflict with his philosophy. On one overseas trip, he helped seal for Maryland a plant expansion of the Italian arms manufacturer Beretta -- a deal aided with state loan guarantees extended one year after Schaefer had campaigned for a tough state handgun control law.

"If he did not go into Mr. Beretta's villa . . . that firm would be in New Jersey," Schaefer said of himself.

The trips also have meant money in the bank for political backers such as Baltimore shipping executive Edwin Hale.

"I watched cargo leaving {the Port of Baltimore} just right and left without any real involvement" from the government, Hale said. "Now there is such a marked difference."

On trade missions, "he is given immediate access . . . I step in and make deals."

"We're pro-business, we know what business means," Schaefer told the state chamber of commerce at its conference last week.

In his administration, business's role has been large. Although aides say Schaefer has never had a kitchen cabinet in the traditional sense -- he draws on a much wider circle of contacts -- he has tapped corporate leaders for some of his most sensitive missions. When he wanted to reorganize state government, Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. executive Henry J. Butta was given the job; the new commission guiding higher education was filled with business leaders and a restructuring of public education was delegated to Baltimore developer Walter Sondheim; the study of Maryland's taxes was assigned to Montgomery County zoning lawyer R. Robert Linowes.

The relationship between Schaefer and business is a comfortable one. The governor may not always favor business in a showdown, but the burden of proof often is on the other side.

When the late racing magnate Frank DeFrancis warned of competition from out-of-state off-track betting parlors, Schaefer appointed a committee that endorsed the concept for Maryland; when the business community warned against a bill enabling more residents to bring asbestos-exposure lawsuits, Schaefer vetoed it; when Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. joined a national antitrust suit aimed at insurance companies, Schaefer was furious and publicly chastised those who are "anti-business."

"The business community has had a very good four years," said Charles C. Krautler, a lobbyist for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

It is typical for politicians to rely on corporate leaders to finance their campaigns, and if Schaefer has been unusual in that regard, it is only a matter of degree. Republican challenger William S. Shepard said Schaefer's political appeal to business has stunted his ability to raise money from that traditionally Republican source.

"Lots of people feel he has done well by the business community, and they are supporting him in that regard," Shepard said.

Schaefer's ties to business took root while he was pushing downtown revitalization as mayor of Baltimore. Schaefer originally was angered that corporate leaders opposed his Inner Harbor redevelopment plan. The project's success, aides say, gave Schaefer lasting credibility.

Support solidified further in the 1986 race against then-Attorney General Sachs, who drew support from labor as well as the consumer and environmental movements, but mostly enmity from business.

Former Sachs supporters say Schaefer has included them in policy discussions, and in some areas, particularly on the environment and social services, has been better than expected.

In one of his administration's more significant splits with business, Schaefer sided with his Department of the Environment in setting a tough new series of water pollution regulations against some of Maryland's major corporations.

But advocates say Schaefer's natural inclination is to take the side of business.

Janelle Cousino, executive director of the Maryland Citizens Action Coalition consumer group, said the governor's initial proposals on topics such as workers' compensation and health care are made more palatable to consumers only because of legislative pressure. However, she said Schaefer, particularly in the past two years, initiated legislation on auto insurance and banking that had good consumer features.

"I don't think we have made great strides forward, but it has not been a monolithic, concrete brick wall either," Cousino said.

"A close relationship has grown up between him and a great many business leaders," said Schaefer campaign chairman Robert Hillman. "Those people have developed a lot of trust and he has in many ways attempted to emulate them, running the business of government like a for-profit business is run."