When members of Congress left Washington last week, many believed they were escaping from a city filled with high-paid lobbyists.

But legislators from Loveland, Colo., Nacogdoches, Tex., Topeka, Kan., Butte, Mont., Gainesville, Ga., and a host of other unlikely towns are in for a surprise.

Philip Morris Inc., the tobacco and beer conglomerate, has hired a network of hometown lobbyists, many of them close friends of the legislators, to press the company's legislative agenda back home.

Although such efforts are not unknown among Washington lobbyists, few corporations appear to have mounted as extensive a hometown lobbying effort as Philip Morris. According to Senate lobbying records, the company has hired nearly 75 former officials, state lobbyists and public relations specialists to press its message to members of key congressional committees.

"This is the exception," said David D. Poffenberger III, Philip Morris's representative in Dover, Del. "I don't go to Washington to do it. It's all local."

To many congressional aides, the Philip Morris approach is surprising. "Let's call it what it is: a new way to lobby," said Doris Wilson, an aide to Rep. Howard C. Nielson (R-Utah), who was stunned when a tobacco lobbyist asked to sponsor Nielson's meetings with business leaders.

Philip Morris won't discuss the goals of its lobbying campaign, but it clearly is worried by two major issues in Washington: the possibility that the budget summit will call for excise taxes on cigarettes and beer, and the proposed Tobacco Control and Health Protection Act in the House, which would beef up warning labels, bar sponsorship of sporting events by tobacco products, restrict the kinds of pictures that can be used in tobacco ads, and force states to ban sales of cigarettes to minors.

Brennan Dawson, a spokeswoman for The Tobacco Institute, the trade group that has represented the industry for 32 years, said individual tobacco companies have stepped up their tempo as the frequency of anti-smoking attacks has increased.

Dawson said she is aware of the Philip Morris lobbying program, but declined to assess its effectiveness. "We believe the industry's efforts are coordinated carefully, are effective and that's why we win 95 percent of the time," she said.

For Philip Morris, the stakes are obvious: it holds 42 percent of the U.S. cigarette market and 23 percent of the beer market. In recent years it has diversified, acquiring the huge General Foods empire in 1985 and Kraft in 1988, to make it one of the nation's largest food producers. Its products range from Miller beer to Post cereals, Entenmann pastries, Jello-O deserts and Velveeta cheese. The company produced nearly $45 billion in revenues in 1989.

The Philip Morris lobbying program was disclosed by Legal Times, a weekly newspaper directed at lawyers. The publication noted that many appeared to have close ties to the legislators they apparently were trying to influence.

For example, it described former South Dakota lieutenant governor William Dougherty, the Philip Morris lobbyist in Sioux Falls, as a longtime friend of Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, and said that John C. Bottenberg, the Topeka lobbyist, was "a longtime associate" of Rep. Jim Slattery (D-Kan.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

That House committee, which has jurisdiction over the tobacco control bill, and the Senate Finance Committee, which could control excise tax legislation affecting Philip Morris's cigarettes and beer products, appear to be targeted for the lobbying.

A check of the congressional records disclosed numerous examples of lobbyists who seem to be zeroing in on individual legislators on those panels. For instance, Cecil H. Warren of Hammond, La., said he was hired to influence Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (D-La.), a member of the House energy committee.

The records show that Bottenberg spent $635.24 on three meals with Slattery and his staff and that Roy Blake, a Nacogdoches, Tex., "legislative consultant," claimed $455.66 in expenses for five meetings with Rep. Ralph M. Hall (D-Tex.), another member of the energy committee.

Some of the Senate records are not clear as to whom the lobbyists are trying to influence, and several of the lobbyists, citing instructions from Philip Morris, declined to be interviewed. "I won't discuss my client's business with you," said Donald F. Michael of Indianapolis, the former Indiana Democratic Party chairman.

"I'm not really certain what the criteria are," said Warren, who represents other clients before the Louisiana state legislature and was paid $1,875 for his work during the first three months of the year. During that time he established a business forum for Rep. Tauzin that Warren said will meet every six weeks to discuss "what the latest issues are in Washington."

Dennis Winters, the tobacco company's Butte, Mont., lobbyist, said he has enjoyed wide freedom, reporting regularly to a regional Philip Morris executive who handles the company's government relations in the Pacific Northwest. "Every state is looked as a different entity and that's the beauty of it," Winters said.

Winters said his program, run under the name of the "Montana Coalition Against Regressive Taxation," is one of the most successful in the nation. It is largely directed at Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the third-ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and aims to persuade Baucus that excise taxes are bad ideas.

Baucus appeared at a rally sponsored by Winters and the lobbyist said he believes the company's message got through. Baucus "said he would be very strong against it {excise taxes} when it comes up," Winters said.

Suzanne Lagoni, a Baucus spokeswoman, said that although the senator has not taken a stand on excise taxes, "he feels there is a lot that can be done before you raise the excise taxes." The senator is happy to speak to the tobacco group "like any other constituent group," she said.

The Montana rally, with balloons emblazened with the message "My Mommy and Daddy Hate Excise Taxes," may have been one of the more overt aspects of the campaign.

According to Senate lobbying records, the Philip Morris campaign employs telephone banks, letter-writing campaigns and, in many of the districts, "business forums."

Nielson, a strong opponent of smoking, said he had his own business advisory group but has decided to adopt a group formed by the Philip Morris lobbyist in Salt Lake City instead. "It's mine, though . . . . They pay for the breakfasts, I admit," he said.

"I've been to every one of their meetings and there has been no discussion of any tobacco issues," Nielson said. The group has, instead, discussed a lot of issues such as child care and clean air legislation, which is of interest to small businesses, he said.

Gary L. Thorup, the Salt Lake City lobbyist who established the group, said it was "nice to hear" of Nielson's favorable comments, but, citing Philip Morris's directives, referred all calls to Andrew White, a spokesman for the company in New York.

White said the large number of the company's recent registrations of lobbyists is not significant. He said about 30 were "just reregistering," apparently for their second year of work under the program. After agreeing to take several questions about the program, White later declined to respond.

A report filed earlier this year by Reese Communication Cos. of Arlington, a lobbying organization that helped create the network, said it spent $765,515 for Philip Morris during the previous year. The report listed 22 individuals, most of them local lobbyists hired by Philip Morris, that it had employed for "professional services." Staff writer Judith Havemann and staff researcher Ralph Gaillard Jr. contributed to this report.