The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee asked the Postal Service three weeks ago to investigate a political action committee run by Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), charging that the PAC defrauded donors by collecting more than $217,000 and spending only $3,000 for its stated purpose of electing conservatives to Congress.

Yesterday, the Democratic committee said it will ask the Federal Election Commission to prevent the group, the Conservatives for Hope and Opportunity, from donating its leftover cash to conservative Republican candidates.

This seeming contradiction is consistent with the running war of nerves between Democratic congressional leaders and Gingrich, who plans to ask the House ethics committee to investigate the two House Democratic leaders: Speaker Jim Wright (Tex.) and Democratic Whip Tony Coelho (Calif.).

The latest salvo from the Democratic committee came in response to a letter from the treasurer of Gingrich's PAC notifying the election commission that it has ceased fund-raising and requesting permission to distribute to political candidates its remaining cash on hand -- $1,060.77 -- and continuing income from renting its contributor lists.

But because the PAC has outstanding debts to vendors of almost $55,000, the Democratic committee charged yesterday that distribution of its remaining cash would constitute illegal corporate contributions to candidates. The Democratic committee plans to file a formal request with the FEC next week asking that the PAC be barred from distributing its remaining assets to candidates.

"First the Conservatives for Hope and Opportunity attempted to deceive its contributors. And now they are attempting to skirt campaign election law," charged the Democratic committee's chairman, Rep. Beryl Anthony Jr. (D-Ark.) in a statement.

Because the PAC has stopped raising funds, the Democratic committee's original complaint to the Postal Service is apparently moot. But Anthony said that a criminal complaint of mail fraud is possible.

"Newt Gingrich has only fooled himself if he thinks by disbanding the PAC he has avoided a thorough investigation of its questionable practices," Anthony said.

Gingrich responded: "As an institution that knows better than any other political institution in Washington what an illegal political contribution is, the DCCC . . . certainly has to be listened to respectfully."

Gingrich noted that his PAC has only sought a ruling from the FEC on whether distribution of the funds is legal, and said that if Wright and Coelho had acted similarly, "we would not have the current scandals in the U.S. House."

Gingrich plans to ask the House for a formal ethics inquiry into Wright and Coelho and their relationship to troubled Texas savings and loan institutions. Wright has been criticized for intervening with federal regulators on behalf of the thrifts. And last year, Coelho acknowledged that his campaign committee and the Democratic committee, which he chaired for six years, had not paid for use of a plane and yacht owned by one of the savings and loans. The committees later reimbursed the thrift.