Byline: Carol Emert

WASHINGTON — As part of an effort to increase retailers’ clout in Washington, the National Retail Federation is working on a public relations strategy to counter the antitrade rhetoric of protectionists such as Republican presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan.
The rising visibility of the antitrade forces “is politically dangerous, and I think we really have to address it,” John Motley, senior vice president, government affairs, said Friday. “Trade is not going to go away as an issue in this campaign.”
NRF activists have been developing a strategy for about a month. They expect to finalize it in about two weeks, said Tracy Mullin, the group’s president. The NRF is evaluating how to get its message across without engaging in a blow-by-blow debate with politicians, Mullin said.
“We certainly could make a pro-free-trade statement, but I don’t envision challenging any of the candidates on an issue like that,” Mullin said. “We’re not going to say, ‘Pat Buchanan is full of hot air.’ That’s not the way we approach it.”
One strategy the NRF may employ is to ask high-profile retail executives to write opinion pieces for newspapers extolling the virtues of open markets, Motley said.
The NRF is also trying to bolster its power on Capitol Hill by strengthening its political action committee. PACs are the instruments through which corporations make political donations because federal law prevents direct donations from businesses.
The NRF hopes to increase its PAC disbursements to $150,000 per year, although Mullin warned that the goal probably will not be reached this year. Federal Election Commission filings show the NRF PAC received about $30,000 in donations from members and employees last year and disbursed $20,740 to Congressional candidates.
Fund-raising efforts will be two-pronged. Donations are being sought from the organization’s most active members and board members. At the same time, the NRF is exploring the possibility of using state affiliates for grass roots support.
One area in which the NRF will not become involved is endorsing or contributing to presidential candidates. Only candidates for the House and Senate will receive PAC donations.
Choosing between presidential candidates “is very risky because the president has more power in the process than anybody else,” Motley said.
Other national trade associations, including the International Mass Retail Association, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute and the American Apparel Manufacturers Association, abide by similar policies. The AAMA makes no political donations; it abolished its PAC about five years ago.
According to a review of Federal Election Commission filings, Donald Fisher, chairman of The Gap Inc., San Francisco, was the largest retail donor among those making political contributions so far in this election cycle. In 1995, Fisher donated a whopping $90,000 to the Republican National Committee.
While there are legal ceilings on donations to individual candidates, there are no limits to the amount of “soft money” supporters can contribute to political organizations such as the Republican National Committee.
Fisher and his wife, Doris F. Fisher, also donated $1,000 each to Republican presidential candidate Senator Robert Dole of Kansas last year.
Leslie Wexner, chairman, ceo and president of The Limited Inc., Columbus, Ohio, also supported Dole with a $1,000 donation. The Limited’s PAC contributed $5,000 to Dole.
Other Dole supporters include executives from May Department Stores Co., St. Louis, who donated about $5,000. An additional $6,525 was raised by employees of Payless Shoesource, a division of May.
Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, who dropped out of the Republican race last month, received $2,000 from Wexner last spring and $250 from William R. Howell, chairman of J.C. Penney.
Republican hopeful Steve Forbes received $1,000 from Fisher in December.
The bulk of donations by textile manufacturers, $16,000 in all, went to ATMI’s PAC. Roger Milliken of Milliken & Co. and William Armfield of Unifi each donated $5,000. Frederick B. Dent of Mayfair Mills donated $1,050. Walter Elisha of Springs Industries and Charles A. Hayes of Guilford Mills gave $1,000 each.
Neil Hightower of Thomaston Mills, Walter Montgomery of Spartan Mills, Patrick J. Danahy of Cone Mills, Dewey Torgdon of Cone Mills and James D. Nabors of Russell Corp. each donated $500. MacFarlane L. Cates Jr. of Arkwright Mills, J.T. Taunton of Russell Corp. and Jimmie Sue Johnson of Russell Corp. each gave donated $250. Wylie L. Hamrick of Hamrick Mills donated $200.
Textile executives also shelled out at least $6,500 for Dole. Armfield donated $3,000, Hightower gave Dole $2,000, Dent donated $1,000 and Cates donated $500.
Buchanan received $5,500 from textile executives located in the search. Milliken and Montgomery each gave Buchanan $2,000, Hamrick donated $1,000 and Cates gave Buchanan $500.
Milliken and Lanier Hicks of Oxford Industries each donated $1,000 to former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander, another Republican presidential contender.
Milliken also gave $5,000 to the Republican Party of Iowa and $5,000 to the Republican Party of Virginia.
Armfield contributed $1,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, and Dent gave $500 to the Republican National Committee.
Apparel makers contributed far more money to Democrats than textile makers or retailers. Paul Marciano of Guess gave $10,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, while Susie Tompkins of Esprit de Corp. gave $2,475 to the Democratic National Committee.
Thousand-dollar donors to President Clinton’s reelection committee included Maurice Marciano of Guess, Donald La Vigne of Esprit, Susie Tompkins of Esprit, Sandra A. Westlake of Esprit and John J. Pomerantz of The Leslie Fay Cos. Elizabeth Coleman of Maidenform Worldwide donated $2,000 to Clinton.
But plenty of apparel makers, particularly Warnaco, came out for Republicans. Twenty-three Warnaco employees, including ceo Linda Wachner, donated a total of $22,000 to Dole last spring.
Wachner said in a phone interview that the donations were raised at a company fund-raiser. She added that she is on the Dole campaign’s finance committee. Wachner also donated $1,000 to Forbes.
Sidney Kimmel, chairman of the Jones Apparel Group, gave $1,000 to Dole.
— Fairchild News Service

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