"Like putting earrings on a hog," said Jim Hightower, who was rased in Denison, Tex., and might even know. "You just can't hide the ugliness."

Not that Hightower was talking agribusiness or pork bellies at his fund-raiser last night.No time for that stuff, no time at all, when you've got a monolith like the Texas Railroad Commission to crack and need $250,000, easy, to do it.

Instead, Hightower was talking about the ugliness in the Texas oil business to lots of Washington "lefties" as one guest put it (or "hopeless idealists" as another one figured) at a party full of real live country music, real live Texas folk and semiwarm tamales flown fresh from Rosita's in Austin. A few guests needed instructions to shuck the gooey things. The beer, Rolling Rock, was a lot easier to tackle.

To backtrack a bit: Hightower, who wears wire rims and Texas cowboy boots, was once the editor of the feisty and anti-establishment Texas Observer. He regularly took on the Texas Railroad Commission, a three-member group that doesn't have as much to do with railroading as it does with regulating -- all the oil and gas in Texas, to be specific, which comes out to be a third of the oil and gas in America.

The three members, Hightower wrote, had too many ties to the oil, gas and coal interests they regulated.He wrote that again and again, until finally, he decided that "writing about [them] isn't enough."

So now he's left journalism and entered politics as a railroad commission candidate himself. He estimates he'll need $250,000 to win in the May election.

And that means fund-raisers, which brings us back to last night's scene at philanthropist and General Motors heir Stewart Mott's house. Mott himself was in New York, but his house, the frequent site of many "good-cause" parties, was full of good causers and other liberals who paid $25 a head to be there.

Like Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.) who introduced Hightower in superlatives ("There's not a better constructive agitator that I know in our whole society.") and Dick Clark, the former Iowa senator who now figures out what to do with refugees like the boat people.

Old friends from Hightower's days heading the 1976 Fred Harris for President campaign were there, too. So were friends from his time at the Agribusiness Accountability Project in Washington. And media people showed up, and pro-consumer sorts, and Peace Corps stalwarts.

One was Jack Healey, who just yesterday morning got back from two years in the independent kingdom of Lesotho, surrounded by South Africa. Last night he was rapidly returning to the Washington swing of things.

"There's a certain vocabulary in this town that I didn't realize when I lived here," Healey said. "Words like integrated plan, focus of interest, and stuff like that. If you've been away for a while, it sort of blows you away."

As for one of the other 200-plus guests, Hightower himself just "blows her away." That's freelance writer Everly Driscoll, who was raised in Texas and thinks that what Hightower is doing, no matter how impossible, is just great.

"Can you imagine running against Gulf, Standard Oil and Exxon?" she said. "He's going to take on the invincible."