Baltimore Gas & Electric's George Gephart frequently gets calls from congressmen and an occasional U.S. senator. American Security Bank's Roger Conner receives an average of three letters a day from politicians eager for his approval. And Bill Young, an executive at BDM Corp. in McLean, gets invited to a Capitol Hill party just about every night by some member of Congress who wants his ear.
The popularity of all three is based on their positions as top officials in the political action committees sponsored by their companies -- three committees that together have handed out more than $66,000 to scores of candidates in Tuesday's election.
More than three dozen companies in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia have their own political action committees, reflecting the explosive growth in corporate PACs from 89 in 1974 to more than 1,400 today. The companies sponsoring them in this area range from McLean's Planning Research Corp., with 6,200 employes, to Martin Marietta Corp., the giant aircraft company based in Bethesda, which employs 42,000 around the country. Whatever its size, each company is attempting to get its own particular message across the best way it can -- with money.
"We felt that business was not being properly represented in Washington," Gephart, chairman of BG&E's PAC, said, echoing the statements of several other PAC officials. Voicing his own special concern, he added: "And certainly the utility industry was not being properly heard on Capitol Hill."
While federal law prohibits a corporation from contributing directly to candidates, a separate entity, the PAC, sponsored by a company may contribute up to $5,000 to each candidate for each election, primary and general. The PACs obtain their funds through contributions from company executives. Corporate PACs contributed more than $31 million to federal candidates in the 1980 elections.
To make its own voice a little louder when the 98th Congress convenes in January, BG&E's PAC has contributed about $25,000 to U.S. House and Senate candidates running for office in states from Massachusetts to California. The carefully researched beneficiaries are picked for a variety of reasons, including membership on a key committee in Congress, a demonstrated openness to the utility's point of view or, in some cases, on a sort of lesser-of-two-evils principle.
In San Francisco, BG&E's PAC gave $200 to Republican Milton Marks, who is attempting to knock off one of the House's most influential liberals, Democrat Phillip Burton. The PAC is willing to back Marks, with his liberal voting record, because "in that particular district you're not going to find Genghis Khan," said Gephart. And if he were a candidate, would they back him? "If he represented the views of PAC participants, we'd consider him," said Gephart.
Out in Nevada, the PAC gave $500 to each opponent of Democratic Sen. Howard Cannon. Said Gephart: "We know about Mr. Cannon and we think he ought to retire." Cannon helped shepherd through Congress a 1979 deregulation measure that allowed railroads to raise freight charges, vastly increasing the utility's cost of shipping coal, according to a company lobbyist.
At the politically active BDM Corp., a defense contracting and professional services company in McLean, PAC officials met twice this year to decide how to divvy up the approximately $40,000 they had for candidates "interested in a strong, viable national defense and a free economic system," according to Bill Young, the PAC's chairman. The PAC also keeps its eye on candidates in districts in other parts of the country where the company has operations.
In the heated U.S. Senate race in Virginia, the PAC gave $3,000 each to Republican Paul Trible and Democrat Richard Davis. "At the risk of making both sides angry," said Young, "in terms of business and economic interests . . . they're not that far apart."
The PAC officials also look for incumbents who oppose various measures going through Congress these days that would prohibit the government from contracting for services in the private sector, according to Young. "Frankly, it's called economic survival."
American Security Bank in Washington started its PAC last March, and despite a deluge of mail from congressional candidates, funneled most of its $7,000 to candidates for local office, such as D.C. mayor. But the PAC did find money for two congressional contributions: $500 to Trible, the conservative Republican running for the Senate in Virginia, and $250 to political newcomer Cissy Baker running for Congress from Tennessee. Baker is the daughter of Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker.
At the other end of the local spectrum is the PAC run by Martin Marietta, which has given about $124,000 to candidates for the 1982 election. The PAC committee of three, which includes the company's president, met once a month to parcel out funds to more than 100 candidates for the House and Senate, many of whom serve on committees, such as Armed Services or Commerce, Science and Transportation, whose decisions could affect Marietta's aerospace and other interests, according to a company spokesman.
When the PACs choose to ignore a candidate, it's not by accident. Rep. Michael D. Barnes is the only Maryland incumbent who did not get funds from C&P Telephone's PAC this year. In 1978, Barnes left the Maryland commission that regulates utilities to run for Congress. A few months later he refused to accept a $500 contribution from C&P's PAC, fearing even the appearance of some impropriety.
"We sent their check back with a little note explaining," said Barnes aide Judy DeSarno. "They've been a little bit sensitive about it ever since."