More than a year before the Libyans first approached Billy Carter, the Qaddafi regime already had under way an ambitious if amateur lobbying campaign aimed at changing U.S. attitudes toward Libya's radical government.

The program was similar to others run in this country by a few foreign governments, and members of Congress, businessmen, journalists and minority group leaders were caught up in it.

The Libyan program featured government-paid trips for American delegations and return visits by comparable Libyan groups. This was not done with any particular secrecy. Indeed, much of it was covered by the press at the time.

It also included invitations to members of Congress, who then traveled to Libya at U.S. government expense, using funds reserved for congressional travel on official business.

Rep. Steven D. Symms (R-Idaho) for example, visited Libya for a week in February 1977 on government funds supplied through the request of the House Interior Committee, which described his trip as attending "a seminar on mutual land-use problems."

Symms' administrative assistant, Chris D. Lay, yesterday said that the trip was designed primarily "to open the possible furtherance of trade" between Idaho farmers and Libya. He said he was unaware of any seminar and "the congressman never mentioned one."

The Libyans also reportedly have contributed government funds to American organizations. One group confirming such a donation was Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity), the Chicago-based self-help organization headed the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.

Jackson recently said he received $10,000 last December from Libyan charge d'affaires Ali Houderi, whom he termed "a friend."

Jackson said the Libyan donation came at a luncheon where Houderi was the featured speaker. He added that the Libyan money was no different to him than a similar gift of $10,000 he received that day from a leading Jewish lawyer in Chicago or a much larger gift from a black businessman.

One focus of the Libyan lobbying and the so-called people-to-people program it spawned was the continuing complaint that the U.S. government -- and particularly the State Department -- were not interested in dealing with their regime.

They continually cited as an example the refusal since 1974 of the State Department to permit the delivery to Libya of eight C130 military transport planes, for which $60 million had been paid to the Lockheed Corp.

"The C130s were used to illustrate the U.S. contempt for Libya," one visitor to that country said yesterday.

"They were a matter of pride to [leader Muammar] Qaddafi," a State Deparment official said in describing the Libyan obsession with the C130s.

The State Department received a barrage of congressional letters in early 1977 about the airplanes, a situation that led one diplomat recently to suggest it had been orchestrated by the Libyans.

On Feb. 3, for example, letters came in from Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Rep. B. F. Sisk (D-Calif.) on behalf of constituents asking why the planes had not been released.

On March 16, 1977, Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.) wrote the State Department of "an inquiry" he had received about the planes and concluded by asking "what can be done to obtain the release of the aircraft in question."

Having been told the department had no plans to release the aircraft, Vander Jagt sent another letter on Aug. 9, 1977.

"I have been requested to contact you once again," Vander Jagt wrote, "to specifically ask if these C130 aircrafts were changed from military configuration to civilian configuration, would this in any way change the previous position of the Department of State to permit release of these planes?"

Vander Jagt's administrative assistant, James M. Sparling Jr., said recently he thought it would be impossible to find out who had sent the inquiries on the C130s, because that correspondence had been filed away.

Vander Jagt was unavailable for comment yesterday.

The congressional writing campaign seemed to die out in the middle of 1977, but the travel and people-to-people program was getting well underway.

Directing this operation from Tripoli was the foreign liaison bureau of the Libyan government, headed by Ahmed Shahati.

When Symms traveled to Libya in February 1977, Shahati acted as his host. Although Symms' trip was paid out of U.S. government funds, the five Idahoans with him went courtesy of the Libyan government.

Symms and his group "did what we could to open markets for the state," according to Don Ravenscroft, then the Idaho state Republican Party chairman, who was along on the trip.

But the ministries of trade and foreign affairs, talk went "several times," Ravenscroft recently recalled, "to complaints about the State Department, Israel" and a desire to get the planes.

When Symms returned to Washington, he reported his impressions to the Under Secretary of State Philip Habib. Included in that report was the Libyan desire for the C130s.

After Habib explained the U.S. position, however, the Idaho congressman never again raised the issue, according to Lay, his aide.

A second Idaho legislator, Republican Sen. James A. McClure, went to Libya for three days in February 1978 as part of a broader trip that included stops in Saudi Arabia and London.

McClure, who was accompanied by his administrative assistant, Michael Hathaway, said his primary aim was to look at oil policies. The Senate Energy Committee authorized payment of funds for the trip.

McClure said yesterday that Shahati "made sure we got to see who we wanted to see" while they were in Libya.

As "evidence of their difficulty in dealing with the U.S.," McClure said yesterday, they brought up the C130s.

When he returned to Washington, McClure, too, briefed Habib on his findings, including the C130s.

He told Habib and later said publicly that the Libyans either should be given the planes they had purchased or get their money back.

In late 1977, Shahati's organization agreed to finance yet another people-to-people effort, the Arab-American Dialogue. The Washington-based group, established with over $100,000 of Libyan money, was headed by Richard Shadyac, who also did legal work for the Libyan embassy.

Over 1978 he gathered a group of 122 Americans who agreed to attend a week-long session in Libya at the Tripoli government's expense -- to discuss problems between the United States and the Arab world.

Billy Carter visited Libya in September 1978, just before the dialogue took place. Shahati was his host.

In January 1979, when Shahati led a Libyan delegation to the United States, he paid return visits to several of those he had hosted in Tripoli.

Billy Carter, for example, organized the group's trip to Atlanta. In Washington, Symms and McClure were both asked by the Libyans to arrange receptions in the House and Senate respectively.

Symms sent out an invitation to members of the House Agriculture and Foreign Affairs committees to meet Shahati at "a private meeting . . . The press will not be present or be notified . . ."

Columnist Jack Anderson learned about the invitation, wrote about it and the Feb. 7 session therefore drew only a handful of members.

It ended up with Shahati being asked a series of tough, embarrassing questions about Libyan support of terrorism, according to only participant.

On the Senate side it went no better. McClure's aide Hathaway said the Libyans wanted to meet some senators but "because of schedule changes" Shahati ended up having lunch only with McClure in the Senators Dining Room.

The next known event on the Shahati schedule is a second session of the Arab-American Dialogue. Originally scheduled for February 1980, it was canceled because of hard feelings left by the burning of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli on Dec. 2, 1979.

It is now scheduled for Washington on Nov. 7, three days after the presidential election.