Henry E. Howell abruptly rejected a desperately needed offer of between $25,000 and $75,000 for his Virginia gubernatorial campaign Sunday after he learned that the man who made the offer has a criminal record, campaign aides said yesterday.

Separately, Paul Goldman. Howell's campaign manager, disclosed that the Howell treasury was virtually depleted and would be unable to meet a $10,000 payroll today. "A small percentage" of that amount is on hand and will be used to pay a number of the lower-paid staff members, Goldman said:

Howell, whose third race for governor has been plagued by money problems, made his decision to reject the promised donation from Robert E. Bales of Glade Spring, Va. after learning that Bales was on probation. Aides warned him that publicity over the donation might harm the Howell campaign.

". . . I have always believed that all candidates running for public office must be above reproach . . . Not desiring to embarrass Mr. Bales or his family in any way, the Howell campaign will not accept his offer of a contribution," Howell said in a statement yesterday.

The Bales gift was disclosed Saturday during a Howell rally in Falls Church. Howell's executive direcotr, Bill Rosendahl, said the campaign was going to use the windfall to purchase radio and television advertising. The advertisements would be aired across the state for the final two weeks of the Democratic primary between Howell and former state attorney general andrew P. Miller.

But those plans evaporated late Sunday when Rosendahl, alerted by questions from a Richmond television reporter, confronted Bales, whom he had described as a Southwest Virginia land developer, with questions about his background.

According to federal court records, Bales is on probation for making false statements on a loan application and two counts of income tax evasion. Bales pleaded no contest to the charges and on May 12, 1975, was placed on five years probation by U.S. District Court Judge Ted Dalton.

Dalton fined Bales $2,500 on two charge of making false statements to a federally insured bank and gave him a two-year suspended prison sentence. His fine on tax charges of understating his income by $48,000 in 1968 and by $29,000 in 1969 was more severe: a$12,500 fine and a three-year suspended sentence.

According to federal bankruptcy court records in Roanoke, Bales and two of his corporations in 1974 filed for protection from creditors. Bales himself filed three times for a Chapter 13 Bankrupcy Acr proceeding which allows a debtor to attempt to rearrange his debts. He finally asked to be declared bankrupt.

Howell and his aides said yesterday they had no idea of Bale's past troubles when Howell met him May 19 in the small town of Wise in South-west Virginia. "To be honest, we never bothered to ask," Rosendahl said yesterday. "Henry Howell is running as an honest and open guy with no deals. No one gets anything from Henry but good government."

Bales could not be reached for comment, but Rosendahl, who is Howell's chief fund raiser, said he approached Bales at the suggestion of Howell field coordinator Mickey Smith. According to Rosendahl, Smith, who works in Abingdon, had described Bales as a prosperous businessman who was supporting Howell and might be willing to contribute.

Although Rosendahl had disclosed Bale's intention to give, his promised donation had not reached Howell's Norfolk headquarters by yesterday, Rosendahl said. Bales has assured the Howell campaign he and "his friends" would give "a minimum of $25,000 to a high of $75,000." Rosendahl said.

"These things happen in politics," said Goldman later. He confirmed, as Rosendahl had, that Howell still does not have funds to purchase broadcast time for television spots the campaign has paid $30,000 to produce. Both were less optimistic about securing the funds before the June 14 primary than they have been previously. ly.

Howell, a former lieutenant governor, had planned to raise $600,000 for his primary campaign, but had raised only $240,869 by May 10. He then conceded that his plans for television advertising were in doubt, but his top campaign aides were optimistic that they could secure the funds.

"It all depends on cash flow," Goldman said yesterday. Two weeks ago the Howell campaign was unable to pay all its 18-memeber staff on payday, although all the workers except Goldman have since been paid, he said.

Yesterday the workers assembled in Howell's Norfolk state headquarters and were told by Goldman that the campaign cannot meet today's payroll. The entire staff agreed to continue without pay, but some "lower-paid" staffers will be paid today, he said.

Howell's fund-raising difficulties are in sharp contrast to the reported success of Miller's fund-raising. Miller is expecting to raise $1 million for the primary. By May 10 Miller had reported donations of $629,008 - a record for any primary in Virginia history and enough to purchase television ads in all section of the state except Northern Virginia.