A West Virginia coal operator who was awaiting trial on murder charges in 1988 claims that then-West Virginia Gov. Arch Moore Jr. (R) solicited a $50,000 campaign contribution from him in return for a promise of a pardon and that the funds were laundered through a Republican National Committee account to conceal the donation.

H. Paul Kizer, who was acquitted of the murder charge, made the allegation in an interview published Sunday in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

RNC spokeswoman Leslie Goodman said Kizer's $50,000 corporate check was made out to the Republican Governors Association, an arm of the RNC, and deposited in its state elections' corporate account.

Moore, who lost the 1988 election, agreed in April to plead guilty to several federal corruption charges. One was extorting $573,000 from Kizer in 1985 in return for giving his coal companies a $2 million refund from the state's black lung disease fund.

The indictment against Moore made no mention of the $50,000 contribution, which would have been illegal if made directly to Moore. The news report noted that the RNC's state election committee sent $295,000 to the West Virginia state GOP to buy television ads in the closing days of Moore's 1988 campaign.

James Lees, Kizer's attorney, confirmed his client's account yesterday. "Paul's impression was that Moore was going to run the money through the RNC and get clean money back."

Moore's attorney, William G. Hundley of Washington, said the governor was out of Charleston campaigning on Oct. 20, 1988, the day Kizer said he was solicited by Moore in the governor's office. Hundley said Moore did meet with Kizer in November and December.

Only Moore campaign manager John Leaberry, a key witness against Moore, would know whether the campaign had an understanding with RNC officials to launder Kizer's money and send a like amount back to West Virginia for the campaign, Hundley added. Leaberry told Moore he had collected a total of $200,000 from coal operators to send to the Republican governors group, Hundley said.

Leaberry's attorney did not return a call asking for comment.

The RNC's corporate account and a like account for large contributions from individuals are for "soft money" that cannot be accepted under federal and some state laws. West Virginia, for example, bars corporate contributions to candidates and limits individual donations to $1,000 per election. Soft money can be used by political parties for get-out-the-vote and other "party building" activities.

Kizer's $50,000 was not sent back to West Virginia because of the corporate fund prohibition, Goodman said. She confirmed that more than $200,000 from the invdividual donors' account was contributed to the state Republican committee about the same time.

Goodman said no one at the national party level was aware of any agreement with Moore or his campaign to launder funds through the RNC. Michele Davis, director of the Republican Governors Association, said there was "absolutely not" any such understanding to her knowledge.

Goodman added that the RNC does not check the background of its donors and had no way of knowing Kizer was facing a murder charge. "The extent of our obligation is to make sure the money that comes in the door is collected and spent in the proper way," she said.

Kizer's claim provides ammunition to "soft money" critics. "This is a classic example of the dangers that flow from the soft money system," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Common Cause. "What are we going to see next, laundered drug money?"