The controversy over Bert Lance's finances is beginning to become a national political issue, a Washington Post survey of members of Congress and state leaders of both parties indicated yesterday.
Republicians, while ambivalent about attacking the budget director, whom many indentify as the "most conservative" force in the Carter administration, are becoming increasingly vocal about "the double standard" they say was implied by President Carter's ringing defense of his close friend.
Democrats, while loyal to the President, admit to varying degrees of misgivings about two aspects of the affair - Lance's overdrafts and Carter's free use of the Lance bank's plane for campaign trips.
Officials in both parties said the case has been slow in surfacing as a political issue, thanks to the complexity of the allegations, the dispersion of vacationing members of Congress, the usual August doldrums and the overriding interest in the emotional Panama Canal question.
But many comments reflected the judgment of Rep. Robert B. Duncan (D-Ore), who said his conversations with his Portland costituents convinced him, "It's not over by a long shot."
Rep. David A. Stockman (R-Mich.) said, "I didn't think that kind of thing would penetrate ot the grass-roots level, but I'm surprised at the number of times it's been brought up and the clear perception of a double standard. People can't understand Carter's rushing in to defend him, after all he's said about high standards of morality. Out here, a $49,000 overdraft sounds to people like something you get sent to prison for."
Duncan, too, said, "The overdrafts bother me more than anything else," but, reflecting the ambivalence in many Democrats' comments, he added: "We may be setting out standards so high the Almighty Himself might not survive scrutiny."
If the impression of growing grass-roots concern over the Lance case, reported by two dozen officials in this random survey, is correct, then it spells serious problems for the intensive effort by Lance. Carter and White House press secretary Jody Powell to end the debate on the issue. All three men have tried to convert the finding by the comptroller of the currency that Lance violated no laws in his complex financial transactions into an exoneration of the Office of Management and Budget director of all charges of impropriety.
Some Democrats say they think Carter's strong defense has put Lance in the clear. Dagmar Vidal of Hampton, lowa, a member of the Democratic National Committee, said, "A lot of people here have been concerned and felt he [Lance] didn't do the right thing. But I think there's a feeling now that if the President has confidence in Lance, they do, too . . . Jimmy Carter is still pretty popular in Iowa, and people trust his honesty."
Betty R. McCain of Wilson, N.C., the state Democratic chairman, said, "The people of North Carolina are very much in favor of the President and Mr. Lance. The man is innocent as the purewhite snow."
Didi Carson of Las Vegas, the Nevada Democratic Party head, said, "I'd like to know more of the facts, of course, but I'm pretty well satisfied with what he said."
That reaction was not confirned to Democratic paartisans. House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (RAriz.) said from his Phoenix office that, "Out here, I don't see that it's much of an issue."
"The main reaction I hear is that if Lance were a Republican, he'd already have been tarre and feathered," Rhodes said. "But this is a conservative area, and Bert Lance is perceived as one member of the Carter administration who makes a lot of sense to conservatives. So there's no inclination to pollory him."
That forebearance was not expressed by Republican leaders in other sections of the country, however.
Frederick K. Biebel of Hartford, the Connecticut Republican chairman, said, "Lance ought to resign, and if he doesn't , Carter ought to ask for his resignation. If his was a Republican, he'd already be out of office. He's still overdrawing his bank account, so how can he run the budget of the country?"
Rep. William L. Dickinson (R-Ala.), who conceded "I have a certain partisan bias," ridiculed the administration defense of lance as amounting to the contention that "just because he won't be indicted, he's vindicated. Half the Mafia don't get indicted."
Both Biebel and Dickinson contrasted the handling of the Lance case with that of Howard H. (Bo) Callaway, who was forced to resign as chairman of the Ford for President campaign during a protracted Senate investigation which, they contended, eventually produced no evidence of wrongdoing on Callaway's part.
"You try to tell anybody," Dickinson said, "that there's not a doublestandard in this business."
Several Democrats said they were troubled by the same question of standards. Donald Fowler, the veteran South Carolina Democratic chairman, described himself as "really torn personally. I wish I knew more about it, so I could make a better judgment. Sometimes, I think we're pursuing minutiae to the point of crucifying somebody. But I just don't think he [Carter] would have protected somebody who who was not his own as quickly as he did Lance. So I am kind of ambivalent."
James Wall of Chicago, the Illinois chairman of the Carter campaign and editor of the Christian Century magazine, said, "It's not coming across well. I don't like the tone of what the President or Jody is saying - that jsut because someone didn't vilate a law, he's all right. The question is not if there was something immoral here: the questiiin is if it's just government-as-usual, with no higher standards than any other President has set. If it is, then it's not in keeping with what Carter said he would do."
Dorothy zug of Bethlehem. Pa., a member of the Democratic National Committee, said, "Basically, the reactions have not been praticularly good. Anyone who has commented at all has been concerned that Carter has put someone in who is less than perfect, which is what he said he was looking for. People react to it as being just another political mixup."
Jo Baer, another Democratic Natioinal Committee member and a leader of the 1976 Udall-for-President campaign in New York, used "double-standard" phrase in describing the situation. "We said the things weren't acceptable with Republicians," she said, "and now we have live up to it. The people I talk to do want to get rid of someone who competent. But it doesn't all set together."
A number of Republicans express surprise that Carter had moved strongly to Lance's defense, even while investigations are continuily within the executive branch and Congress.
Mary Louise Smith of Des Moinel the former Republician national chairman, said that "beyond the question of whether it's good for him Carter politically. I wonder whether the comments are appropriate before all the facts are known. I think there's loyalty there - a close, close tie - but don't know that warrants an unqualfied defense of the man."
John Linneil, just returned as the Maine Republican chairman said, "think Carter has handled it rather poorly, rushing to his defense and taking some liberties with the facts in the comptroller's report. He a little Nixonian in the defense of his friend."
The net impression is that officials of neither party are certain of the dimensions or duration of th e Lance affair, but most suspect they are increasing.
Interestingly, Republican National Chairman Bill Brock, who has been quick to criticize Carter and the Democrats on other issues, has made no statements on this case. And Democratic National Chairman Kenneth R. Curtis has been equally reticent, making no public move to backstop the White House defense of Lance.