Common Cause called on the House Ethics Committee yesterday to investigate whether Rep. Dan Daniel (D-Va.) violated House rules by accepting and failing to report free airplane trips from a defense contractor whose airplanes he pressed the Pentagon to buy.

The public lobby group cited newspaper accounts that Daniel, a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, accepted a number of trips between Washington and his home in Danville, Va., from the contractor, Beech Aircraft Corp.

Common Cause also asked the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to look into the business dealings of Rep. Fernand St Germain (D-R.I.), the chairman of the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee.

In separate letters to Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.), chairman of the ethics panel, Common Cause President Fred Wertheimer asked the committee "to determine if House rules have been violated, and to report publicly on its findings."

An aide to Daniel said yesterday that he was unavailable for comment.

The Washington Post reported Monday that Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) angrily walked out of a Senate-House conference on the military apropriations bill after Daniel pushed for a $56.9 million contract with Beech for two dozen C12s that would be used by National Guard and Reserve officers. Goldwater had wanted the contract to be put out for competitive bidding.

On Thursday, Daniel told his colleagues in the Virginia House delegation that he may have misinterpreted House rules in accepting the rides from Beech. One of his colleagues said Daniel told them he plans to pay for the rides and amend his disclosure forms to report the flights. He later told a reporter he would make a public statement in a letter to his constituents next week.

Common Cause cited a provision of the Code of Official Conduct that says a member of Congress shall not accept gifts totaling $100 or more in any calendar year from anyone having a direct interest in legislation before Congress.

Further, Common Cause noted, House rules and the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 require House members to identify the source of any gifts, including transportation, of $250 or more from a single source.

Daniel has said that he had never heard of those sections of the ethics act. He said his support of Beech aircraft was unrelated to the free trips; it stems from his days as an executive with Dan River Mills when "we used that aircraft and found them very satisfactory."

Wertheimer's complaint about Daniel quoted the nine-term congressman as saying in response to a reporter's question about whether he had violated House rules regarding gifts: "I really don't know, and the truth of the matter is, I don't care." Daniel supposedly added that "accepting a ride on a corporate aircraft saves the taxpayers travel money," the letter said.

In asking for the investigation of St Germain, Wertheimer said a story in The Wall Street Journal Wednesday indicated that St Germain "has had lots of investment help from people and institutions that have benefited from his official actions" as he became a millionaire during his 24 years in the House. St Germain was quoted as saying he had been "scrupulous to avoid conflicts."

Jake Lewis, a banking committee spokesman, said yesterday that St Germain was traveling in his home district and not available for comment.