Federal and postal employe and retiree associations had planned to pump up to $7 million into this year's congressional races.
But since passage of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction act, which is expected to result in a number of cutbacks in government, they have frozen contributions from their political action committees to most candidates and to local and national party groups.
Two of the groups, the National Association of Retired Federal Employees and the National Association of Letter Carriers, are among the top 10 PACs in the nation.
Past contributions from federal-postal PACs have gone mostly to Democrats: In some cases, a five-minute telephone call from a candidate was enough to get a generous check.
Now it may take longer.
This year, organizations such as the American Federation of Government Employees say that they will screen carefully the recent voting records of all candidates who come asking for money, regardless of past friendships.
NARFE, with 500,000 members and a million-dollar war chest, was the first to put on the freeze.
The Letter Carriers' PAC followed suit, by cutting off contributions to anyone who voted for the Gramm- Rudman-Hollings legislation. That takes in most members of Congress.
"What we're hearing now" from members of Congress, one postal union official said, "is members who say 'Gee, I didn't realize Gramm-Rudman- Hollings would eliminate the COLA (the January cost-of-living raise for retirees)' or 'Gee, I didn't know it would mean layoffs in federal agencies or cutbacks in health insurance benefits.' "
"It is the old question: 'Were you a fool or a knave?' " the union aide said. "What they are telling us is that they were fools."