PAT ROBERTSON, after his "invisible army" propelled him to an impressive second-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, thinks that he is entitled to more serious consideration as a candidate than he has often received and that he should be regarded as something more than a television evangelist. These are reasonable claims. He argues also that interviewers who bring up his religious practices -- Tom Brokaw has asked him about talking to God -- are guilty of "bigotry." There Mr. Robertson is wrong: a candidate's full public record is the public's business, with the proviso that, as a simple matter of respect, personal religious beliefs should not be held up to ridicule. But Pat Robertson's strong religious and moral beliefs are what got him into the political arena. He should not be surprised when people seek to learn more about them.
What we find disturbing about the Robertson candidacy is not his religion, but some of his campaign finance practices and many of his stands on issues. Relying heavily on mailing lists owned by his Christian Broadcasting Network, the Robertson campaign raised $16.1 million in 1987 and has qualified for $6.6 million in federal matching funds. But the use of money from his tax-exempt Freedom Council to get Robertson supporters to file as precinct delegates in 1986, which is now being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, seems to us an abuse of the law. The sale of a campaign computer for some $337,000 in cash at a time when the Robertson campaign was cash-poor looks like an attempt to funnel illegally large contributions into the campaign. Mr. Robertson's work in persuading large numbers of contributors to send in small and medium-sized sums is impressive and constitutes good practice under the campaign finance laws. But the campaign's willingness to risk going outside the corners of the law, in such big things as the Freedom Council money and in such relatively small ones as the computer sale, is something quite different.
On issues, he has taken a couple of stands that no one could object to -- such as teaching reading to children and illiterates. But on some of the tough, important questions, he is really awful. He says that AIDS can be transmitted by breathing, that the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission are "trying to move us to a one-world socialist government" and that Supreme Court decisions are binding only on the parties in the case and not on others. He said in 1985 that only Christians and Jews devout by his standards would hold appointments in a Robertson administration. Such statements undermine Mr. Robertson's claim to be taken seriously as a candidate for president.