A short-lived group called The National Clearinghouse to Draft Kennedy held a victory fund-raising party at Stewart Mott's home on Capitol Hill last night to pay off the office rent and phone bills.

"We didn't think he would declare so early," said Lou Gordon, who headed the draft-Kennedy group. "We will need $50 for each person, and we hope to get enough to pay the bills that come to about $15,000."

Gwen Southerland, office manager for only a couple of months, said, "I was salaried, but most of the people were volunteers. They paid me about $150 a week for 40 hours. After those 40 hours I became a Kennedy volunteer for a few more hours."

There was champagne and a spread of cheese and crackers prepared by Susan Meehan who said, "I couldn't afford the$50 to get in. But the food cost me $60."

Rep. Eugene V. Atkinson (D-Pa.) wore a Kennedy button and said, "I have a loyalty and belief he will provide the kind of leadership we need. I voted with Carter only about 25 percent of the time. Kennedy will bring the best of the minds in this country together. Chappaquiddick was a difficult time of his life and might have made him a stronger person. Remember, it was 10 years ago."

Enjoying the small, packed room, lawyer Joe Rauh likened the excitement of the evening to election night. "Kennedy is the only guy who can make it against an incumbent," he said. "Carter is using the power of the incumbent more than any candidate. Nixon was a pike compared to Carter in using his power in such a political degree. Kennedy is out there moving. He is in three states today."

The party picked up as the plastic glasses emptied of champagne and a few Irish voices were lifted in song.

"Chappaquiddick is a dead issue," said one Kennedy fan, then caught himself in an embarrassed way. "I didn't mean that. Energy is the issue."

Sitting quietly in the back patio, Joanne Kimzey, a nurse from Georgetown Hospital, said she wasn't sure why she was there. "I like his policy on health care," she said. "I would like to get involved. I don't know how to. If I knew, I would. Maybe if he wins the nomination I can go and vote for him."