A week before the Senate ethics committee recommended that he be denounced by the Senate for "reprehensible" conduct, Sen. Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.) wrote committee leaders to protest that such a sanction would be "much too onerous and pejorative."

Instead, Durenberger said in a memorandum accompanying his July 12 letter to committee chairman Howell T. Heflin (D-Ala.) and vice chairman Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), he should be given a reprimand -- a milder form of disciplinary action that requires no formal action by the Senate.

Durenberger's complaints were directed at a report from committee special counsel Robert S. Bennett, who originally proposed the denouncement for what he called Durenberger's "reprehensible" conduct in supplementing his personal income in improper ways.

These included evading honoraria limits through a book-promotion deal, reimbursement by the Senate for rent at a Minneapolis condominium in which Durenberger owned an interest and acceptance of free limousine service from special interests while visiting a marriage counselor in the Boston area.

Despite Durenberger's appeal, the ethics panel Wednesday adopted both the penalty and language proposed by Bennett.

A denouncement requires action by the Senate, whereas a reprimand requires action only by the ethics committee. The Senate is expected to consider the case before it recesses for a month in early August.

In his letter, Durenberger noted that the only other senator who has been denounced, Herman E. Talmadge (D-Ga.), was faulted in 1979 for not discovering and preventing criminal activity in his office, which Durenberger said had not occurred in his case. Also, he said, Talmadge had not taken the "multiple precautions" he claimed that he took to assure that his conduct was proper.

"I take full responsibility for my actions and recognize that some sanction may be appropriate, but not the one special counsel {Bennett} proffers," said Durenberger.

He also objected to Bennett's and the committee's use of the word "reprehensible." "This word conjures up the impression of detestable, malicious conduct, but special counsel himself has ruled out such a finding. You, my colleagues, who know me know that this characterization just doesn't fit, that I am not venal or malicious," he said.

Durenberger asked the panel to consider "the already devastating effect on my life and career this investigation has had," adding, "The process has been a sanction in itself."