THERE IS ORGANIZATION whose headquarters are in New York City that claims to be the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). It's run by Roy Innis. Mr. Innis would have us - and those he seeks to solicit donations from - believe that his CORE is the same "well-respected civil-rights organization" that for two decades manned the front lines of the civil rights movement. But, as staff writer Warren Brown's report yesterday made clear, nothing could be further from the truth.

Mr. Innis, since becoming CORE's executive director in the late 1960s, has parlayed his reputed commitment to improving black communities into an operation that raises millions of dollars through telephone solicitations. Although he says this money supports such activities as day-care centers and various job-training and referral programs throughout the nation, it's almost impossible to find any trace of most of them. The two so-called CORE day-centers our reporters visited were very small and ill-equipped. And Mr. Innis's attempt to label the organization's telephone-solicitation effort a job-training program for inner-city youths is ludicrous. More likily, using these job-hungry unskilled youths to make the telephone pitch is just a way to cut fund raising costs - after all, Mr. Innis did say, "We're now hard-nosed businessmen."

So hard-nosed, apparently, that law enforcement officials in three states either have filed civil suits against CORE for allegedly deceptive fund-raising practices or are investigating complaints that CORE fund-raisers harass black and white businessmen.

Of course, Mr. Innis isn't the first person - black, white or other - to take over an organization with a high public purpose and use it for his own questionable ends. Still, it's sad to see the name of an organization that represented some very important ideals so compromised. CORE was formed in Chicago in 1942 by James Farmer and others who pledged to fight racial discrimination and segregation through nonviolent direct action. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s CORE staged sit-ins and freedom rides in the North and South in an effort to push back the wall of segregation. By the 1960s, when the civil-rights movement swept across the land, its committed members were veteran freedom fighters who faced injury and death countless times. They were the "real" CORE. Mr. Innis's operation is something entirely different.