What George McGovern called the "miserable, nitpicking Federal Election Commission" struck back yesterday with a report recommending that McGovern be required to repay more than $25,000 in federal campaign funds.

The biggest item -- $13,549 -- involves the publicly funded portion of the $50,000 salary McGovern's 1984 presidential campaign committee decided to pay him to make up for lost income during his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

McGovern, who has publicly recommended the FEC's abolition, said yesterday that he intends to fight on the salary issue. He said that he was a bit surprised by the FEC determination because "their general counsel and staff told us earlier that it was okay" to take the money, but that he remained apprehensive nonetheless.

"I rapped 'em pretty good," the former South Dakota senator said of his criticisms of the FEC during last year's campaign. "I kind of expected to get it in the ribs sooner or later."

Mary Curtin, treasurer of the McGovern's committee, the Friends of George McGovern, said its members thought the salary was justified because McGovern makes his living on the lecture circuit and usually gets $5,000 a speech. She said he had to forgo that money during his campaign.

"That was six months of lost income," she said. "The amount we paid him would not even approach what he would have been paid on the lecture circuit." After all, she said, senators who run for president can still receive their Senate salaries and the same is true for lawyers.

McGovern was especially critical of the FEC last year for what he regarded as red-tape delays that kept him from receiving federal matching funds until after the Iowa caucuses. He said then that he might have come in second, instead of Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), if he'd had the money in hand.

The FEC audit, made public yesterday, also said McGovern's committee should repay $7,457 in "undocumented" expenditures, for which receipts cannot be found, and $4,099 for expenses in connection with the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, when he was no longer a qualified candidate.

McGovern said he will not contest those items, although he said they help illustrate his view that "the net result of the FEC is to force campaigns to hire auditors. We just had to rely on volunteers."

McGovern said he wants the six-member commission to explain "why the commissioners overruled the staff."