The big insider's joke in D.C. political circles last week went like this: Is Mayor Marion Barry going to give back the money?

Last fall, the mayor smugly boasted he would not accept money from contributors who also gave to other candidates in the fall primary. Campaign finance reports filed Monday indicated that several businessmen and lawyers gave to two or three candidates besides Barry.

Will the mayor give back the money? Delano Lewis, chairman of the mayor's finance committee, delivered the punch line:

"Well, obviously--hah, ha, ha--not."

The first wave of campaign contributions to Democratic mayoral candidates contained other surprises.

Barry's campaign organization raised about $178,000 in less than two weeks, yet still not as much as City Council member John L. Ray, who has collected more than $203,000.

Although Barry has received a substantial amount of money, many major businessmen have not yet contributed to his campaign, saying they are still uncertain at this early date who their candidate will be.

And despite Barry's early efforts to stifle opposition by cutting off the flow of major campaign contributions to anyone but himself, nearly half a million dollars--an unprecedented amount for this early in the political season--was given in scattershot fashion, encouraging Barry's three major announced challengers to stay in the race.

The large contributions also suggest that in this its third election for mayor, the District of Columbia may be heading into a new era of big-time campaign spending. At this time four years ago, the announced mayoral candidates had raised a total of only $20,000--about one-twentieth the amount raised in the first month of 1982.

"Five hundred dollars used to be a very big contribution in this town," said John Allen, former finance chairman of the city's Democratic party, whose study of city-wide elections in 1974 pegged the cost of a complete campaign at $174,000.

"Now $2,000 is what $500 used to be. . . . I remember when we all laughed at Cliff Alexander for spending $100,000 in the first mayor's race."

Now, officials of several campaigns are talking about raising $500,000 to $700,000.

After seven years of home rule, businessmen, real estate agents, developers and lawyers used to dealing with the city through Congress are taking the local government seriously enough to step up their political contributions.

The record amount raised so far by Barry, Ray and council members John A. Wilson and Betty Ann Kane, $498,830, could be an understatement of sorts. Absent from the field at this point is Patricia Roberts Harris, a former Carter administration Cabinet member who many observers believe would raise large sums both locally and nationally if she enters the race.

Also, business executives are withholding contributions until they have a chance to meet with all the candidates and see how the field shapes up.

Conspicuously absent from lists of contributors are developer Oliver T. Carr Jr.; Vincent C. Burke, chairman of Riggs National Bank; John R. Tydings, executive vice president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade; Edwin K. Hoffman, chairman of the board of Woodward & Lothrop, and Foster Shannon, of the Shannon & Luchs Co. real estate firm.

"The advantage to giving early is to have them (candidates) remember you," explained one longtime contributor to city campaigns. "You can say your money was there early. What's amazing is how many of them you have who want to give money and want to give it early."

One of the few well-established businessmen who has given early is Dominic F. Antonelli Jr., one of the city's major downtown landowners. On three successive days late last month, Antonelli and firms in which he is a partner contributed a total of $57,5000 to Barry, Ray and Wilson--one of every nine dollars given to all of the candidates in the race, according to reports filed with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.

Wilson, whose ward includes most of the downtown area and is chairman of the council's Finance and Revenue Committee, got the largest amount contributed by Antonelli, the reports indicate. Antonelli, who is also the owner of Parking Management Inc., the largest parking firm in the city, has declined to discuss the contributions.

Wilson said last week he couldn't explain why Antonelli gave him 30 percent of the money he has raised so far. With the help of those contributions, Wilson has shown surprising strength in the early stages of the Sept. 14 Democratic primary race, having raised $96,048.

Still, some political observers have downplayed Wilson's performance by saying that businessmen feel obliged to donate to any Wilson campaign because he represents the city's booming downtown area in Ward 2.

"He won't get more than another $100,000," said one major contributor to past mayoral races. "What he has now is his tribute money from everyone who has to bow to him."

Ray, who so far has proved to be the most effective fund raiser, has obtained much of his money through a carefully planned series of dinners, neighborhood coffee klatches and an early bird, two-week radio advertising campaign.

Yesterday, Ray began door-to-door campaigning in a Southeast Washington, accompanied by a group of present and former Washington Redskins who have endorsed his candidacy.

The 17 football players include tackle George Starke, receivers Art Monk and Terry Metcalf, cornerback Joe Lavender, running back Joe Washington and kick returner Mike Nelms. Bobby Mitchell, a former receiver and now a Redskins assistant general manager, is chairman of Ray's finance committee.

A large number of Ray's supporters are lawyers and accountants who have not taken part in city politics before. "We're only at the start of getting money from this source ," said Nancy (Bitsy) Folger, a principal Ray fund-raiser, said.

Meanwhile Barry appears to have kept many of the young professionals who helped to fund his last campaign, such as real estate developer and banker Jeffrey N. Cohen and restaurateur Stuart Long.

With that group, in addition to numerous contractors and developers who have said they feel they must contribute to the incumbent or risk losing city contracts and help from the mayor's office in expediting permits and licenses, Barry has raised $178,059.

"We're going to raise money and lots of it," said Ivanhoe Donaldson, who was Barry's campaign director in 1978 and now directs the city's Department of Employment Services.

Donaldson said the large amount of money being raised by the mayor's opponents doesn't bother Barry's camp since the money is coming from groups that would not have given to Barry anyway.

Donaldson said Barry intends to spend well over $500,000 to run the classy kind of campaign that he said voters expect of an incumbent.

"An incumbent mayor has to do a little more than everyone else," Donaldson said. "They (voters) don't expect to get ragtag mail. They expect something mayoral."

So far, Kane, with a total of $24,860, has made the weakest showing, despite earlier speculation that she would receive considerable support from the real estate industry because of her opposition to rent control and the estate tax.

If Kane loses she will be out of city government altogether, for her term on the City Council expires this year. She has until July 7 to change her mind and file as a candidate for her own at-large seat or for council chairman.

Kane said last week she is not upset by her relatively poor showing as a fund-raiser. "The money is there and I think it will come when we start to ask for it," she said.

Some of Kane's supporters said her most pressing concern is to convince potential contributors that a white woman can be elected mayor of Washington. Kane is campaigning almost daily at meetings, churches and parties around the city.

Former City Council chairman Sterling Tucker has released a list of supporters and says he has commitments for $250,000, but he has not yet registered as a candidate.

Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) also has not registered but said she plans to announce here candidacy soon. Other candidates registered for the sept. 14 Democratic primary are Morris Harper and Richard C. Jackson. James E. Champagne is registered for the Republican primary.