When Sen. Alan J. Dixon (D-Ill.) was planning a trip to his condominium in West Palm Beach during a congressional recess last year, Eugene Callahan, his top aide, made a telephone call to see if the senator could mix pleasure with honoraria.

Callahan called Marty Farmer, a Florida banking lobbyist who had arranged an earlier $2,000 speaking engagement for Dixon and had said he was willing to do so again. As Farmer remembers it, Callahan said: "Alan will be down there for the break. Do you think you could get something together for him to speak to your people?"

Farmer agreed to set something up. "Al is on the {Senate} Banking Committee, he's in the leadership, he's a good performer," Farmer explained recently. "I don't find that abusive. Some {members} need it for their income."

The practice of members of Congress or their staffs soliciting honoraria from special interest groups -- rather than responding to a formal invitation -- has been growing over the past few years, according to interviews with lobbyists, members and their aides.

There's nothing illegal about such solicitations, but some lobbyists who have been solicited said they were offended at being asked to invent speaking events so that a senator or House member could collect a $2,000 fee. "It's a shakedown, pure and simple," said one lobbyist, who insisted on anonymity for fear of offending someone in power.

The issue is sensitive on Capitol Hill. Although many participants acknowledge such solicitations take place, few like to talk about it openly -- especially at a time when Congress is under pressure to do away with honoraria. (The House has banned such fees, effective next year, and similar legislation is pending in the Senate. Last year, members collected more than $9 million in speaking fees, according to a tabulation by Mead Data Central.)

The solicitation methods reflect this sensitivity. Often, a staff aide makes the approach, dropping a broad hint in a conversation about other matters. Kim Kynoch, of Equitable Life Assurance Society, a large insurance company, said deciding whether to acquiesce to a solicitation "depends on which committee he's on." Robert Andrews, of Rockwell International, a major defense contractor, said: "You have to be ready to say no. But no one in the business wants to turn down a request."

Rockwell is one of several defense contractors with plants in Southern California that are regular stops on "honoraria tours" by many members. Andrews estimated that solicitations -- rather than invitations from the company -- accounted for "well over half" of the $50,000 in speaking fees Rockwell has paid in the past year.

There's nothing in the rules to prevent a cash-strapped member from hustling speaking fees. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who had not taken honoraria in six years in Congress, did just that last year. He collected $30,000 in a four-month period -- nearly all of it from appearances that he solicited.

Reid said he needed the money to pay for medical bills and travel expenses after his wife was hospitalized with a major illness. Reid said his Senate medical insurance covered much of the cost, but did not pay 100 percent of all expenses.

Concerned about soliciting speaking fees from special interest groups, Reid said he asked several Nevada friends instead. "I would rather take it from someone from home if I'm going to have to take money for speaking," Reid said in an interview. He said it was obvious that several individuals paid him to speak "because of our long-standing friendship. Everyone that calls up, they don't give them money."

Clair Haycock, chairman of a Las Vegas oil distributorship and a longtime Reid friend, said he offered to give Reid money to help pay the expenses. Reid suggested instead that he be paid for speaking to Haycock's employees. "It was more to help him than to help us," Haycock said. "It's ridiculous to say I hired him to give a speech."

Reid has not sought or accepted speaking fees since last fall. He said his experience "has reinforced my opinion that this honoraria thing should be abolished."

Increased scrutiny of honoraria has made members and their staffs sensitive to questions about the practice. During an initial interview, Dixon aide Callahan seemed to acknowledge that he had solicited bank lobbyist Farmer, although he maintained that four other Dixon trips to West Palm Beach in the same time period began with invitations.

In a subsequent interview, Callahan said he did not solicit Farmer at all, but was merely following up on an earlier invitation that Farmer had made to the senator. Asked about this, Farmer said he probably told Dixon that bank officials enjoyed his 1988 presentation and would like to have him back "any time." But, he said, he had not issued any formal invitation to Dixon when Callahan called months later with what he considered a solicitation.

Another Dixon speaking trip to Florida started with a call from an Olin Corp. lobbyist. Olin has an ordnance headquarters across the state in St. Petersburg, and Dixon agreed to speak there March 6, 1989, for $2,000. Callahan said he tries to arrange speaking engagements near West Palm Beach -- where Dixon owns a condominium -- "for the senator's convenience."

Olin also paid Dixon's round-trip air fare from Washington to the speech site -- by way of West Palm Beach, where he spent the weekend before his Monday appearance. Senate rules allow a member to be reimbursed for "necessary expenses."

At times members try to arrange honoraria appearances to fit with other out-of-town speeches or fund-raisers. For example, Kevin Schieffer, top aide to Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), said that if the senator is heading to a fund-raiser and has a "standing invitation" from a group to speak, he might combine the two. At the same time, Schieffer said, "we don't have a policy of soliciting honoraria. . . . {Pressler's} not at a loss for invitations."

When Pressler went to New York for a fund-raiser in June 1989, he also collected a $1,000 fee for a luncheon speech arranged by John Catsimatidis, a New York businessman. Catsimatidis said his Washington lobbyist, Andrew Manatos, "called and said the senator was going to be in town and could I put together something for him." Manatos had been invited to the fund-raiser.

A Pressler trip to California that same month included four speaking fees within three days. The trip was paid for by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and included honoraria from 20th Century Fox, Northrop Corp., Fluor Daniel and William Zeltonoga, a Los Angeles lawyer.

MPAA also paid Pressler a $2,000 honorarium in 1988, one of only two it made to senators that year. Barbara A. Dixon, a vice president of the movie group, said the association both invites members to speak and responds to requests from them. "Sometimes a senator or member of Congress will call us. Sometimes we call them," Dixon said.

She said that the group's president, Jack Valenti, "doesn't recall" who initiated Pressler's 1988 speaking appearance or Pressler's 1989 trip.

Northrop spokeswoman Sally Koris said the idea for Pressler's June 29 visit was "mutual. One of our Washington lobbyists was talking to the senator and they agreed it would be a good idea for him to visit." The $2,000 Northrop stop included breakfast at the private Regency Club in Los Angeles with company executives and a tour and briefing at the firm's B-2 "stealth" bomber plant in Palmdale, she said.

Northrop dropped Pressler off the same day with representatives of Fluor Daniel, a large engineering firm. The company's lobbyist, Betty Hudson, had heard that Pressler was coming to California and expressed interest in arranging an appearance, according to a Fluor spokeswoman. For his $2,000 fee, the senator attended an informal session with "about a half-dozen" officers at the company's Irvine offices.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) piggybacked one speaking fee on top of another last year. He went to Chicago for a Northwestern University Law School seminar on Supreme Court candidates March 17-18, 1989, a Friday and Saturday. He originally was asked to speak Friday, but Senate business caused him to postpone the speech until Saturday. He was paid $2,500, the same as the academic speakers.

After voting in the Senate at midday Friday, Specter flew to Chicago at Northwestern's expense. He arrived in the afternoon, and had enough time to visit a facility owned by Waste Management Inc. and collect a $2,000 honoraria for speaking to a group of company executives. Frank Moore, Waste Management's lobbyist, said he had given Specter an open invitation to visit after the senator or an aide called him and said Specter wanted to learn more about the firm.

Carl Feldbaum, the senator's administrative assistant, said Specter was able to make the Waste Management stop because the firm was more flexible than Northwestern. Feldbaum noted that Specter has not accepted honoraria this year "because while the rules haven't changed, the atmosphere has."

In a different twist in the honoraria business, Los Angeles publicist Carl Terzian has acted for years as an unofficial booking agent for some members. For example, Terzian's company arranged $18,000 in speaking appearances for Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) last year. Thurmond made two trips to California, which were paid for by Terzian's company.

"Sometimes a senator or his staff calls and says, 'He can be in Los Angeles or he is going to be in Southern California. Would you like to use him or fill his calendar?' " Terzian said. "We will create an audience and use him as a marketing tool for our clients."

Staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.