When small companies look for representation in Washington, they often find lobbying firms with high price tags attached. Now, there is a service that acts as a middleman to help companies link up with less expensive lobbying help.

Washington's first professional lobbying co-op, the Professional Lobbying and Consulting Center, works as a clearinghouse by using a computerized data base that matches clients' needs with "independent consultants" best equipped to help the companies work the Washington maze.

The firm is run by John Zorack, a 62-year-old former Marine lieutenant colonel who has more than 20 years' experience as a lawyer, lobbyist and former association executive. Zorack has enlisted a group of about 160 lobbyists from all aspects of the political process, including former Capitol Hill workers and administrative officials. They pay Zorack's center a fee of $80 a year and a 15 percent finder's fee for every referral Zorack sends them.

"Lobbying is so complex that no one entity today can handle the complex problems that come through the door from all sides," Zorack said. "There are a lot of competent people coming out of government associations and Congress that know their niche upside down and backward."

Zorack can draw from a pool of lobbyists and consultants, including former Sen. Marlow Cook of Kentucky; former Reps. David Henderson and Orval Hansen; Jim Cline, former staff director of the House Judiciary Committee; Thomas Chadwick, former consumer advocate for the U.S. Postal Service, and Lee Verstandig, former director of intergovernmental affairs for the Reagan administration. "We're all sort of niche people," Zorack said. "I don't have the keys to the kingdom and nobody in this town does. I don't care what they tell you."

Zorack has set up his modest lobbying shop in a 14th Street building with low overhead that also projects an image different than that of many high-priced lobbying firms in Washington. "I don't need Russian icons and Van Goghs on the walls," he said.

According to Zorack, small companies, the "moms and pops" as he refers to them, need better access to the government.

"These people coming to town need to find the right person for the right job," Zorack said. "If this center can provide them with better access to the government, this has to improve the democratic process."

Too often, he said, some lobbyists don't turn down business even when they are not completely versed on a particular issue. Instead, they opt to learn on the job, he said. "I think that they mean well, but it takes them time to learn the players and the issues, and the small business guy ends up paying for it," he said. "I've always felt in my heart that in many cases you need to have help from other people to help people."

Zorack stresses that he wants to help the center's members meet their clients' needs, but doesn't want his members' clients for himself. Fees that his members receive are, on the average, about $100 per hour, nearly half that of the fees charged by the company's more upscale counterparts. Zorack said that while he doesn't tell a member what to charge, he may tell a member that a particular client can't pay a certain amount. Or, if a big firm comes in with a big issue, he may say that a fee has been set too low. Zorack's income comes not from the fees charged clients, but from the membership fees and percentages he charges lobbyists who sign up with him.

Howard Marlowe, president of the American League of Lobbyists, said, "Professional lobbying assistance ought to be available at a reasonable price to anyone who wants it. To the extent that the center does that, I think it's great."