Picture this if you can: Powerful federal officials stripped of the right to lobby the news media on government time!

Advised that they risk jail for mobilizing government typists, paper and time to push the one true cause, powerful officials can imagine being forced to sit home evenings, in their underwear, writing personal long-hand letters to the editor. Nearby wait loyal spouses putting stamps on envelopes! The course that the official advocates (or opposes) could be war with Antarctica or reform of the bureaucracy. It matters not. What matters is that they might be told not to do it, except on their own time.

Such an event, the limiting of influence peddling, could cripple Washington where half the population is engaged in lobbying while the other half is engaged in being lobbied.

With that background, be advised that lobbying as we know it is safe -- for the time being.

A federal judge here has dismissed a suit brought by a federal union that was trying to stop a top federal official from writing letters to newspapers advocating President Carter's federal pay reform plan. The judge is U.S. District Court Judge Thomas A. Flannery. The union is the National Treasury Employees Union. The official is Alan K. Campbell, director of the Office of Personnel Management and chief presidential overseer of the federal work force.

NTEU charged that Campbell had violated two federal statutes that prohibit agencies or officials from using federal funds "for publicity or propaganda purposes designed to support or defeat" legislation before Congress.

The union alleged that Campbell had acted illegally when he sent more than 200 letters to newspapers (including The Washington Post) seeking editorial support for the president's pay reform plan. Many federal workers are uneasy with the "reform" proposal, which would link government salaries to hometown industry. The reform would give Carter much more power to set pay and fringes, and many employes fear it could reduce the amount of future raises.

NTEU sought relief in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia as in effect, an injured party representing members and workers who could be hurt financially by pay "reform."

(The NTEU, incidentally, has strongly endorsed Sen. Edward Kennedy for the Democratic nomination. Its early endorsement praised Kennedy for his prolabor record, and blasted Carter for being antibureaucrat. It cited his mandatory pay parking for federal employes, and his pay reform proposals, as evidence of his lack of love and understanding of civil servants).

The judge ruled that NTEU failed to show that it suffered any injury "of a legally cognizable nature" or that anything adverse had happened to it because of the pay reform proposal. Flannery's decision also said the union failed to show that Campbell's letter to the media had any influence on the proposal, and "in asking this court to discern sufficient injury arising from that letter to give rise to a justiciable case or controversy, the plaintiff asks to much." Justiciable means "liable to trial" in a court.