NINETY-SEVEN AND A HALF cases of apples that weren't reported as gifts to President Ford's primary campaign (it's the "half" we like), a necklace with souvenir pendant that was improperly charged to the Wallace campaign - these are among the derelictions uncovered by auditors at the Federal Election Commission, which has been trying to wrap up its review of the 1976 presidential campaigns. True, the auditors found some more substantial problems. But those, too, relative to overall spending, were pretty minor.
Last week, for instance, the FEC announced that the Ford campaign had repaid $13,437.03 in federal matching funds the committee had either misspent or not qualified for. And this week Gov. George Wallace asked for and got a little more time to account for $96,669.60, most of which the FEC cannot trace. But as Gov. Wallace said, the items in dispute involve "only one-half of 1 percent of all my expenditures." Similarily, the Ford campaign's repayments add up to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of a primary-campaign budge that exceeded $14 million. That's not a bad record when you consider the tremendous complexity of the reporting rules.
Does any of this suggest that federal aid can therefore be safely extended to Senate and House campaigns? We don't think so. In fact, in our view, the audits offer yet another reason why that idea should be shelved. If the FEC has taken nearly two years go close its books on a handful of presidential campaigns, just contemplate how many years - and auditors - would required to find the rotten apples, not just the unreported ones, in several hundred publicly aided congressional campaigns. It won't work.