About two or three years ago the Office of Management and Budget clamped down on advocacy activities by nonprofit organizations receiving federal grants -- organizations like the Legal Defense Fund, Family and Child Services and so on. OMB's proposed rules were very tough -- so tough that they inevitably aroused suspicion that the Reagan administration's pursuit of them derived more from a desire to satisfy conservative demands to "de- fund the left" than from a concern for squeaky-clean management. Nonetheless, we believed then -- and still do believe -- that tighter rules, though perhaps not quite so tight as OMB had wanted, were justified. Federal rules ought to prohibit lobbying with federal money just as, for good and obvious reason, they prohibit use of federal money for advertising, party-giving or favors for federal officials.

True, maintaining separate services -- separate copying machines? -- would be much tougher for some child advocacy or legal services group than it would be for a major defense contractor, but fair is fair, as they say, and what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander -- as long as the sauce is dished out evenly. "The rules do apply to defense contractors?" we recall asking our OMB source at the time. "Oh, of course," he assured us. "In fact, Cap Weinberger is insisting on even tougher rules for the Pentagon."

From time to time something would happen that would make us feel a bit uneasy. Charges by the General Accounting Office and others, for example, that Lockheed Corp. and the Pentagon had waged a massive joint lobbying campaign in 1982 to persuade the House to approve another $10 billion buy of C5B cargo planes. Lockheed apparently had a computerized data base that kept a day-to-day tally on Pentagon and Lockheed lobbying assignment. "You're sure," we would ask our OMB friend, "that no Pentagon money is being used for lobbying?" "Cap is very tough on that," he would assure us.

Now we read that over the past few years a major defense contractor, Pratt & Whitney, has been treating Air Force officers to deep-sea fishing charters and golf, entertaining Pentagon officials at lavish parties and making donations to art exhibits at the request of a general. And that when such charges were first questioned by an auditor in 1981, the Pentagon responded by investigating the auditor! Meanwhile, General Dynamics was running up $244 million in improper overhead charges -- about enough to keep the entire Legal Services operation or the job-help program for welfare mothers operating for a year. And we didn't even mention the small change: the country club dues, the dog-kennel fees, the lobster feasts, the seminars for defense executives' wives, etc. Although we still believe that fair isfair and that rules ought to be evenly applied, in the face of such gross abuse the question of how the old folks' league uses its Xerox machine somehow fades in importance. We've been had. All of us.