If the ability to spend money is a sign of a strong candidaate, then Republican challengers for three House seats in the Washington area are making serious bids to unseat Democratic incumbents.

Financial reports submitted to the Federal Election Commission last week show that GOP challengers Newton I. Steers, Stanford E. Parris and Frank Wolk are outspending their respective opponents, Reps. Michael D. Barnes, Herbert E. Harris II and Joseph L. Fisher.

In the Barnes-Steers race for the 8th Congressional District of Maryland, freshman Rep. Barnes has raised more money than Steers, $235,254 to $128,413. But millionaire Steers, trying to recapture the seat he lost two years ago, has loaned his own campaign $94,525, which has permitted Steers to outspend Barnes $197,737 to $141,603, through Sept. 30.

In the two Northern Virginia congressional races, Parris had outspent Harris $239,949 to $118,319, while Wolf, making a second consecutive attempt to unseat Fisher, outspent his Democratic rival $259,490 to $99,267. In raising money, Parris has more than doubled Harris, $269,148 to $124,338. Wolf's contributions total $294,658 to Fisher's $160,027.

Because the Fec reports covered spending only through Sept. 30, the renewed interest in the race for the 1st congressional District seat in Maryland was not reflected. But both Rep. Robert E. Bauman, the embattled conservative incumbent, and his Democratic opponent, State Del. Roy Dyson, reported a flurry of contributions since Bauman acknowledged, following a court appearance on Oct. 3, that he suffers from the "the twin compulsions . . . of alcoholism and homosexual tendencies."

An aide said last week that Bauman received $30,000 in contributions in the last two weeks, nearly of it from individuals in the rural, 13-county district, in addition to a commitment of $13,000 from the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.

A cocktail party last Wednesday in Ocean City, a traditional fund-raising endeavor of Bauman's, produced $8,000, double the amount raised at the event in any previous year, according to the aide.

Before the flurry of additional money, Bauman had raised $126,000 for what his supporters believed would be a cakewalk to a fourth term. And while additional money has come to Bauman recently, Dyson has also received unexpected financial support, along with polls that show him leading Bauman following the revelations about Bauman's private life.

While Republican challengers for House seats in the Washington suburbs are finding no dearth of financial support, the Democratic challenger for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Charles McC. Mathias has to had to dig deep into his own pocket to help finance a low-budget, high-deficit campaign.

The statement filed with the FEC by State Sen. Edward T. Conroy showed that the Democratic nominee for the Senate has raised only $77,037 but has spent $116,087. Conroy has managed to spend more than he has raised by loaning his candidacy $44,650, although unlike congressional candidate Steers, the Upper Marlboro lawyer is not a wealthy man.

Meanwhile, Mathias, seeking a third term, is raising and spending money at will. As of Sept. 30, the popular, liberal Republican had raised $641,000 and spent $599,000.

To Conroy, it must seem that in politics, as in the real world, the rich get richer and the poor go deeper in debt.

For example, Rep. Gladys N. sPellman, another Prince George's Democrat, is running for a fourth term in the House against a relatively unknown opponent. Yet Spellman has more money than she knows what to do with. The FEC report showed Spellman has raised $86,159 but only spent $15,479.

With that much of a surplus, it is no wonder Spellman was able to make a $130 in-kind contribution to the underfinanced campaign of Conroy, a fellow resident of Prince George's. CAPTION: Picture 1, FRANK WOLF . . . contributions total $294,658 Picture 2, NEWTON I STEERS . . . outspending opponent Barnes