When raising money, some politicians occasionally pretend they're not doing what they're doing, namely, raising some cold, hard cash. They pretend they cherish you as a friend, they value your profound advice--and, yes, they'd love a little financial help.

Not so Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), who quoted Benjamin Franklin as hailing the virtues of "ready money." Gramm has been somewhat out of the limelight since his less-than-successful 1996 presidential race. But he's getting back in the swing of things in preparation for a 2002 Senate race. Better yet, "he's a lot more fun these days," one source said, more down to earth, even to the point of getting up and serving coffee at a recent meeting with supporters.

He's also honing his poetic skills.

Here's a little composition he penned (with a bit of editing help from his chief of staff, Ruth Cymber) for an invitation we came across for a "Texas B-B-Q lunch," on July 1 at the National Republican Senatorial Committee:

You hold a place

Within my heart.

It's been too long,

We've been apart.

My heart is full.

I long for you.

I've missed your smile

and money, too.

So here's a date

for us to meet

to toast good times

and memories sweet.

Just say yes

and with panache

I'll buy the beer

with your cash.

Planners are expecting perhaps 75 to 100 people to show. Oh, yes, "$1,000 per person."

Milosevic Needs a Mouthpiece Now

Remember, Friday midnight is the deadline for entries to the First Annual Loop Who Should Be Slobo's Lawyer and Why Contest. With so many fine lawyers around the country and right here in River City, we understand it's hard to choose just the right one to defend Slobodan Milosevic on war crimes charges. Send your pick and explain why to: In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or via e-mail to loop@washpost.com. Please include day and evening telephone numbers.

The Exxon Factor

Dirk Forrester, a former member of the White House negotiating team for the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, had high praise recently for Mobil Corp.'s chairman and chief executive officer, Lucio Noto, even though Noto had once called the agreement "a bad treaty."

Seems Mobil had made some vague moves of late indicating it might be willing to join Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) and say there is such a thing as global warming.

"Noto takes the issue seriously and has put some serious people on it," Forrester, now director of the Environmental Defense Fund's energy program, said last month.

But that was just three days before Exxon, seen by enviros as leading the hard-line opposition to warming and Kyoto, took over Mobil. So Noto, at a May 27 news conference, not only repeated his view that Kyoto was "a bad agreement" but also thoroughly trashed it as "not worth the paper that it's written on.

"The American negotiators at the Kyoto agreement were Boy Scouts," he said. "They're the same people who brought you Kosovo and Somalia and Haiti and Iraq."

Lost in Havana, Specter's Boot

Travel, they say, is a highly educational experience. And for Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who's earned a doctorate many times over, his two-day trip to Cuba last week--including 6 1/2 hours with President Fidel Castro--must have been a real eye-opener.

Back in 1995, while pondering a presidential bid, Specter called for "the maximum pressure on . . . Castro . . . to try to achieve his ouster at the earliest possible time."

Specter, endorsing the Helms-Burton bill then tightening the U.S. embargo, said, "the Castro regime has much in common with the totalitarian regimes created by Erich Honecker in East Germany, Kim Il Sung in North Korea and Enver Hoxha in Albania." Now that is a lineup.

But last Thursday, after talking with human rights advocates and others and after his marathon session with Fidel talking about fighting drugs and sharing medical research and the newly jailed four Cuban dissidents--they're not getting paroled any time soon--Specter told the Associated Press, "we should be working much more closely with the Cuban government."

Specter called the embargo "a complex matter" and didn't say whether he supported sanctions. Instead, he favored nonpolitical exchanges without waiting for a change in power, though a Specter spokesman yesterday says he "remains committed to a free and democratic Cuba." Specter feels such moves simply "make sense."

Castro, 73, "is robust and hale and hearty," Specter said. "He's going to be on the scene for many more years."

Dreadful news for Cohiba cigar lovers.

It's Official . . .

Former National Public Radio president and CEO Delano Lewis is President Clinton's pick to be ambassador to South Africa. Lewis, who worked for the Peace Corps in Africa from 1966 to 1969, then the Hill and as an executive with what then was the C&P Telephone Co., recently moved to Las Cruces, N.M.