A Virginia political action committee dedicated to helping Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr. yesterday returned a $10,000 contribution it received from a prominent Alexandria developer, after inquiries from The Washington Post.

The developer, Hubert Hoffman, had given Moran the gift in January at the same time Hoffman was seeking city approval for a major development project in Alexandria.

Under Virginia law, Hoffman's contribution was not illegal. However, some of the committee's expenditures, on political events taking place outside Alexandria, raised questions about whether the PAC was spending money on Moran's congressional challenge of U.S. Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.).

Federal election laws do not allow a state political action committee, such as Moran's, to pay for expenses related to a federal campaign, according to a Federal Election Commission spokesman, who declined to comment specifically on Moran's committee.

Moran, 45, has used the two-year-old Del Ray Democratic Club, a political action committee to pay for such items as photographs, tuxedo rental, holiday cards, dinners, political meetings and donations, membership fees, travel and a doctor's bill. Moran's $25,000-a-year mayoral job is viewed as part time, and he has no other employment.

According to records maintained in Richmond, Moran used money from the PAC to attend dinners sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and the Fairfax County Democratic Business Forum. Both organizations are located outside Alexandria, but much of Fairfax lies within the 8th Congressional District, the seat that Moran is seeking from Parris.

"Due to recent inquiries made to me and to Jim Moran by the Washington Post, I am enclosing the Club's check for $10,000, returning the contribution that you made," the committee's treasurer, Kenneth E. Labowitz, said in a letter to Hoffman, a copy of which was also delivered to The Post. The letter included a check from the PAC returning the money to Hoffman and his wife, Peggy.

The $10,000 contribution was made Jan. 22, 1990, a month after Hubert Hoffman applied for a special use permit he needed to build a 3.5 million-square-foot office project.

As mayor, Moran votes on rezonings and special use permits that come before the seven-member City Council, which he chairs. Hoffman withdrew the application April 9, before the council took any votes, with a notation that it is likely to be resubmitted. Moran publicly opposed the project.

In an interview on Monday, Moran said that he was "uncomfortable" about the amount of the gift but that it did not affect his judgment of Hoffman's project.

"I have to say I've had some concern about that," Moran said, referring to the size of the donation. "I didn't want to hurt his feelings in rejecting it."

He said his strong opposition to the project shows that the donation did not help the developer.

"I've been particularly careful with regard to anything he was involved in," Moran said, referring to Hoffman. "I reviewed {Hoffman's proposal} very carefully. I acted in the best interests of the city. He didn't get any special treatment. He fared very poorly."

Moran recalled that he suggested the Del Ray PAC to Hoffman after the developer approached him about a contribution. Hoffman has donated $1,000 to Parris, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Hoffman said he gave the money to the PAC in appreciation of Moran's fine job as mayor.

"The whole point was to help Moran," Hoffman said. "He makes a pittance . . . . I didn't think Jim was too financially solvent. I wanted to see that this young man got a fair opportunity. He'd been a good mayor and probably he had some outstanding liabilities."

Asked how he learned of the Del Ray PAC, Hoffman said, "Jim Moran mentioned it." He said Moran did not ask for the money.

Parris, a 12-year House member, is favored to retain his seat, but Moran is mounting what most analysts say is a vigorous, well-funded challenge to him. Politicians in both parties have predicted the two will wage a combative campaign.

Parris received extensive gifts from developers in his campaigns for Congress and in last year's unsuccessful race for governor of Virginia.

However, gifts from businessmen have caused Moran particular political damage in the past. Moran was convicted in 1984 of conflict of interest for voting on a motion affecting a business partner. He agreed to resign from his seat on the City Council as part of his plea agreement. A city judge set aside that conviction after Moran was elected mayor a year later.

The Del Ray PAC was formed in September 1988 with $7,259 left over from Moran's race for mayor that year in order to cover expenses that Moran incurs as part of his mayoral duties, according to Moran and Labowitz, the PAC's creator and treasurer. Moran said he has a Visa credit card that he uses to bill expenses to the committee.

"It takes care of necessary expenses not covered by the city," Labowitz said of the PAC.

As counsel to Moran's congressional campaign, Labowitz said, he makes a "considerable effort" to make sure Del Ray money does not benefit the congressional campaign. When asked why the PAC paid for Fairfax County dinners, which are outside of Alexandria, Labowitz said Moran attended in his capacity as mayor.

Hoffman's $1.5 billion project was meant to lure the Navy into Eisenhower Valley.

"It didn't help me worth a damn," Hoffman said of his contribution to Moran. "If anything . . . the facts and the results show you I've certainly never been helped. You can readily see there's no correlation."