SURELY THIS HAS nothing to do with the fact that it's campaign time in Virginia, but some leading Democrats in the state just happen to have a little report to share with everyone about Gov. John N. Dalton's connections with a certain law firm. Briefly, it is that the governor approved a nice, fat state contract with a Richmond law firm this spring shortly after that very same firm offered him a partnership when his term ends. s

But there's more to this story than meets the jaundiced eye. Upon closer look, in fact, we see nothing improper in the governor's actions. Mr. Dalton says he retained the firm of McGuire, Woods and Battle to defend the state's contested reapportionment plan. So far so good, given the fact this is a leading firm with expertise in this field -- and that the Republican governor did this at the request of Democratic legislative leaders. Besides, Mr. Dalton says he told them then that he had been offered a position in the firm and was told by State Senate Majority Leader Hunter Andrews "in the presence of everyone else in the room that he saw nothing wrong with it."

But Mr. Andrews now says that Mr. Dalton did not mention the offer but said "at that time that he had contemplated going with a law firm in Richmond and that he might go with this firm, but he didn't tell us they had made him an offer." Several other Democrats then chimed in with harrumphs about "appearance of impropriety." Besides, some said, why shouldn't this case be turned over to the state attorney general's office?

The governor says he didn't do that because the reapportionment case involves partisan political issues that should not be handled by Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman -- who is the Republican nominee for governor and who happens to be less than sensationally popular these days with Democratic legislators. Well, heck, siad the grumblers, some other lawyer or lawyers in Mr. Coleman's office could handle the case.

Here we come full circle, because if these Democrats think the case should go to Mr. Coleman's office, why wasn't there a big fuss when the governor said he was farming it out to a firm? As we said, it's campaign time, when stories like this tend to show up and grow with the winds. But on the basis of what has been reported, Gov. Dalton owes no one an apology; on the contrary, those who characterized his actions as improper should apologize to him for planting the seeds of doubt in the first place.