The Carter administration has indicated it may seek to revoke the tax-exempt status of the U.S. Olympic Committee unless the committee votes to boycott the Moscow Olympics this summer, the USOC's executive director said yesterday.
The latest indication of screw-tightening came as the administration held its final briefing for USOC members, who are scheduled to vote -- possibly this weekend -- on whether to send an American team to the Moscow Games.
In response to a reporter's inquiry, USOC Executive Director F. Don Miller quoted congressional sources as saying the administration raised the possibility of lifting the USOC's tax exemption in a meeting last week with leaders of Congress. Miller declined to identify the sources of his information, but acknowledged that he takes it seriously.
A White House official acknowledged that lifting the committee's tax-exempt status had been discussed with members of Congress and others, but emphasized that it is not being proposed at this time.
"If you look at the whole universe of things we could do, then this is one of those things," the official said. "But we're not proposing it, we're not suggesting it."
It is, official added, one of a "broad range of options that exist."
"They [administration officials] weren't threatening to do it, but the implication was there," said Miller who described the mention as part of a campaign of "indirect but heavy-handed pressure" by the administration to prod the USOC to boycott the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Miller said other options mentioned by the administration at various times include revising the committee's congressional charter to give the government a voice in its operations, and halting a proposed $4.2 million appropriation for the committee that is before Congress.
Such steps, including revoking the committee's tax exemption, would require congressional action. Both houses have gone on record in favor of boycotting the Moscow Games, but stiff opposition could be expected to using tax law for such broad political purposes, one congressional source said yesterday.
Revoking the USOC's tax-exempt status is one of the toughest sanctions the administration could seek because of the crippling effect it could have on contributions, which now are tax deductible for individuals and corporations.
The committee already has felt an impact from the administration's boycott campaign. Miller said the USOC has raised only $3 million toward its $4.2 million goal for the first quarter of 1980.
While the administration denies that it has asked corporations to cut off their contributions, Sears, Roebuck & Co., claiming it was acting in response to a White House request, announced last week it will withhold a $25,000 pledge unless the USOC formally agrees to boycott the Moscow Games.
Miller said yesterday that five other companies are "delinquent" in pledge payments to the committee. He said he has written the companies to find out why and has received no response, although he said he has learned unofficially that the reason for their nonpayments was the boycott issue.
Asked if he thought that the administration pressure adds up to a direct threat to the USOC's future, Miller replied, "I would have to say yes," although he emphasized that all pressure has been indirect.
Even while calling for a boycott of the Moscow Games, President Carter has publicly urged a continuation of contributions to the USOC, and his aides have denied pressuring corporations to withhold contributions.
Miller, claiming that no more than 8 percent of the committee''s four-year budget of $43 million would go for the Moscow Games, said any efforts to curtail conributions are "directly contrary" to the administration's public position.
At a three-hour meeting yesterday with 28 sports officials who will be among those voting on the boycott issue, Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, White House counsel Lloyd Cutler and Gen. David Jones, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a final appeal for a pro-boycott vote.
"I told them," Vance said, "that I could think of no single, peaceful action, that would more clearly and forcefully indicate the importance we attach to this matter than their support of their government's position on the Olympic boycott."
But after the briefing at the State Department, some sports officials said they were not swayed in favor of a boycott, although they declined to predict how the vote might go when they meet in Colorado Springs, Colo., this weekend.
"I think a lot of people seemed to think they need more information," said Robert J. Surkein, who heads the national governing body for boxing. He declined to be more specific.
Anita DeFrantz, an Olympic rower who is on the USOC's executive board and is the the spokeswoman for the USOC's Athletes Advisory Council, indicated that she will vote against a boycott.
"It would be very difficult for me to vote to violate federal law," DeFrantz said, noting that the USOC, under law, is mandated to prepare a U.S. Olympic team, protect the athletes' rights to compete in the Olympics, and take legal action, if necessary, to assure their participation.
Ollan Cassell, the U.S. representative to the international track federation, said he too believed the USOC would want more information before voting.