Through the computers of his affluent private campaign organization, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) has mounted a nationwide fund-raising drive to help him combat what he calls fraud, abuse and waste in the federal food-stamp program.
Helms' Raleigh-based Congressional Club is seeking contributions and pledges of support to carry out an assault of undefined dimensions on the federal feeding program.
"Your contribution will be used by the Congressional Club to expose one of the most expensive, most abused and badly managed programs in the federal budget--food stamps," says a four-page, single-spaced solicitation letter, bearing Helms' letterhead.
But some of the "abuses" implied in the letter were dealt with by Congress earlier this year or in previous sessions.
Much of the congressional change in the food-stamp program, generated by the administration's push to cut the budget, has been accomplished through the budget reconciliation act, adopted during the summer, and furthered with food-stamp legislation that is moving toward final passage.
A survey form in the current mailings, purporting to record views of recipients in computer-keyed congressional districts, contains questions along these lines, with space provided for "yes," "no" or "undecided":
* Do you believe that a person who voluntarily quits his job to go on strike should be eligible for food stamps?
* Do you believe that college students should be eligible for food stamps?
* 29 percent of food-stamp households own their own homes. Do you believe these homeowners should be eligible for food stamps?
Previous law tightly restricted strikers' eligibility for stamps, and the reconciliation act eliminated strikers from the program. Middle-income students were barred from eligibility in 1977. Virtually all other students were excluded by Congress more than a year ago.
Tom Boney, Helms' chief adviser on food stamps, said that, on his advice, the Congressional Club had removed the question on strikers from its new survey forms, and has eliminated the striker reference from new solicitation letters.
Helms' fraud-fighting kits also include support pledge cards and forms to be sent to President Reagan backing his "$4.4 billion plan" to clean up perceived food-stamp abuses. Reagan's "plan" for fiscal 1982 called for $1.8 billion in cutbacks, mostly by tightening eligibility requirements.
The Helms mail campaign began earlier this year, but has continued beyond the congressional budget-cutting moves, and apparently is going into a new phase, with another fund-solicitation letter in preparation.
The treasurer of the Congressional Club, Carter Wrenn, and Washington aides to Helms were vague about the direction and form the senator's "expose" will take, although they acknowledged that the mail appeal had drawn a "strong" response.
Wrenn said he could not immediately provide an accounting of income, size of mailings or an outline of the club's plans for getting after the food-stamp abuse that Helms has criticized regularly and vigorously.
One project described in the mail packet will be to print more opinion surveys "to show opinion leaders I'm dead serious on cutting waste and fraud out of the food-stamp giveaway."
Helms' letters also stress his belief that unidentified liberal pressure groups have campaigned for continuing high spending by "victimizing" dozens of editors and publishers with "phony propaganda" and "contrived tactics" to make the public believe millions would go hungry without food-stamp assistance.
Consumer and welfare-action organizations had little or no success in turning back the administration's budget-cutting moves, although with the help of key Republicans, such as Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), they did make the cuts less harsh in some eligibility categories.
A series of reductions proposed by Helms, which would have affected principally the elderly and mothers of young children, were rejected by the Senate Agriculture Committee, of which he is chairman.
The reconciliation act, along with food-stamp authorizing legislation now wending its way through Congress, would remove about 1 million of an estimated 23 million recipients from food-stamp rolls during the next year.
The Reagan administration, however, acknowledging that its cuts of other social programs will put unanticipated new demands on the feeding program, agreed two weeks ago to raise the spending limit by about $700 million to an estimated $11.3 billion for fiscal 1982.
Helms' club has made similar money-raising appeals on other issues that aggravate conservatives, and the results have helped make it one of the most powerful and well-heeled private political action committees in the country.
The Congressional Club last year collected almost $8 million, much of which went as a gift to the Reagan presidential campaign and to more than two dozen conservative candidates for Congress. In 1981, an election off-year, the club has brought in close to $3 million with its mail solicitations.