While five of the Democratic presidential campaigns paid $10,000 for the Iowa state Democratic Party's mailing list, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) apparently paid nothing for it, and former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt got it for $1.

Every fifth day, Rich Bond, Vice President Bush's Iowa campaign director, flies from Des Moines to Chicago, Omaha -- or even on to Las Vegas.

The Iowa campaign staff of Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D) will find their Feb. 1 paychecks delayed for at least a week. And the treasurer for Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) will move himself and a portable computer into the Walnut Creek Best Western motel in West Des Moines next week.

The reason for all the maneuvering is presidental campaign staff efforts to stay within the federal spending limit for the Feb. 8 Iowa caucuses -- about $775,000, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The idea was that candidates who take federal matching funds would agree to such limits, which are based on voting-age population, so that richer campaigns could not overwhelm the others. This has become especially important in the early contest, less populous states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

The reality, collected from interviews here and in Iowa in recent days, is a mind-boggling trail of paper work, a search for loopholes that would make a tax lawyer proud and a temptation in some camps to just ignore the law.

Some of the tactics, such as Bond's trips, are time-honored, legal end runs on the FEC spending limits. Others, such as the deals the Gephardt and Babbitt campaigns made with the state party for its mailing list, are more questionable.

Pat Mitchell, Iowa campaign manager for Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), likens the cap to the speed limit. "There are ways around it, but {the spending cap} keeps the carnage to a minimum," especially for less well-funded candidates, he said.

The FEC has lobbied unsuccessfully since 1980 for Congress to change the law and abolish the individual state spending limits while keeping an overall national limit.

This year, candidates of both parties seem to be paying closer attention to abiding by the limits.

Part of the reason is that some just do not have the money to exploit all the loopholes. Dennis J. Rochford, Iowa campaign director for Republican candidate Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV, said his state staff of 22 does not rent cars out of state or fly aides out of state after four days to sidestep the limits. "We're not into those machinations," he said.

National staff members, such as Bush's Bond, and even the candidates themselves, spend no more than four consecutive days in any state so that their salaries and expenses do not count toward the Iowa limit. The FEC exempts four-day visits but requires that expenses for longer than that be counted.

Scott Reed, regional director for Kemp, said it is too disruptive to fly staffers out of state, especially because winter weather could strand a key operative.

Only a few candidates have the funds to buy time in the Omaha television market, which is more expensive than Des Moines and reaches only Republican-rich western Iowa. The advantage, for those who can afford it, is that only a portion of the cost has to be charged against the Iowa limit because Iowans are only a small part of the viewing audience.

The same theory applies to buying Boston television time to woo New Hampshire voters. A recent du Pont campaign memo talked of hopes of spending $1 million on television for New Hampshire. But much of that would be spent in Boston, with only about 15 percent allocable to New Hampshire even though the commercials will reach more than half of New Hampshire's population.

In addition, the campaigns are aware that obvious violations may attract news media attention, such as that focused on Democrat Gary Hart last week because of reports of apparently illegal donations by a major supporter.

The Dukakis campaign even made the front page of The Baltimore Sun last week with a report that its Iowa staffers were facing pay cuts in the final weeks so the campaign will not exceed the Iowa limit.

Tad Devine, Dukakis' national field director, said final paychecks will be delayed a week while staff members determine how close the campaign is to the cap.

Similarly, to keep a careful watch on expenditures, Kemp's national treasurer will be moving to Iowa in the closing days of the campaign.

Bob Bauer, general counsel to Gephardt's campaign, said that with the Iowa caucuses two weeks away, more and more staff time is spent "tracking money instead of tracking voters."

That is especially true in the Gephardt camp, where heavy television spending in recent weeks in Iowa has boosted the candidate's ratings in the polls, but also seems to have moved him close to the spending limit.

Bauer said Gephardt's year-end spending report will allocate about $490,000 to Iowa. And a check of publicly available files of television buys in Iowa media markets indicates the campaign has bought about $500,000 worth of advertising, nearly $300,000 allocable to Iowa.

Bauer will not say how much Gephardt is spending on advertising in Iowa, but he insists that the campaign will stay within the spending limit. He noted, for instance, that much of the campaign's total television time -- "pushing $200,000" -- was paid for in December and was included in the $490,000 listed in the year-end report.

He echoed the comments of many campaign staffers about the accounting gymnastics that campaigns perform because of the federal rules. "It is extremely vexing and time-consuming," Bauer said, to comply with a law that is "ambiguous on critical points, internally inconsistent in key respects and in some cases outright indecipherable."

Gephardt and Dukakis, for instance, ran fund-raising tag lines on their early Iowa television commercials, which is permitted until 28 days before the caucuses. That allowed them to allocate some portion of the cost to a fund-raising exemption and thus deduct it from the Iowa cap. But Bauer said FEC rules are unclear on how much of a deduction will be allowed.

Similarly, the FEC has ruled that interstate phone bank calls to Iowa voters must be charged against the spending limit, but that interstate travel does not. So the cost for Gephardt to fly in 45 House colleagues to stump for him in the closing days will not count toward the Iowa limit.

In the past, some campaigns have simply ignored the limits, apparently with the attitude that it would take a year or two before FEC auditors caught the cheating and fined the campaign, long after the candidate had won or lost.

Robert G. Beckel, campaign manager for Walter F. Mondale in 1984, told a Harper's magazine forum that although the spending limit in New Hampshire that year was $404,000, his campaign went all-out to beat back Hart's challenge. "We, the Mondale campaign, spent $2.85 million . . . . The FEC is not one of the great enforcement agencies of modern politics."

Phil Roeder, spokesman for the Iowa state Democratic Party, had a similar attitude when asked about the propriety of his group's mailing list transactions with the Gephardt and Babbitt campaigns. The party did not ask the FEC whether the practice is permissible, he said. "It's not our job to enforce the FEC rules."

Roeder said the state party offered Democratic candidates a computer tape of the 1.1 million-name list of Democratic and no-party voters in Iowa for $10,000. The campaigns were given a choice of either paying for it directly or "in the case of Gephardt and Babbitt, they went out and raised $10,000 for the party," Roeder said. "Either way was acceptable."

Chris Hamel, Babbitt's campaign director in Iowa, said his campaign picked the second option "to save money from the ceiling" and raised the money by donating $5,000 from a pre-presidential Babbitt committee and getting a Babbitt supporter, Phoenix attorney Robert H. Stephan Jr., to donate the other $5,000.

Stephan said that early last year he asked Babbitt's wife, Hattie, a college classmate, "what I could do to help Bruce." A short time later Babbitt campaign workers asked him to contribute $5,000 to the Iowa state Democratic Party. He did so and got a thank-you note in May from Hamel, he said.

Stephan said, "My purpose was to help Bruce Babbitt." He was unaware, he added, that donations on behalf of federal candidates are limited to $1,000. "If Bruce Babbitt told me to fly around the moon, I'd do it. I have faith in him -- I mean blind faith," he said.

An FEC spokeswoman said the transactions might raise questions of whether Stephan and the state party complied with limits on "in kind" contributions to candidates.

Gephardt lawyer Bauer said he had been unaware of how his candidate obtained the Iowa list until asked by a reporter. He said campaign aides told him that Gephardt had arranged with the Iowa state party to make fund-raising appearances for the party in exchange for the list. "I'm fairly confident we can uphold this legally," Bauer said.Staff researchers Colette T. Rhoney and Melissa Mathis contributed to this report.