IN Washington, the arts of influence peddling and political fund raising can merge in apparently innumerable ways. So it may come as no surprise to learn that Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D) of Texas, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has followed the lead of his predecessor in that slot, Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon, in playing host to a ``breakfast club.'' For an overall charge of $10,000 a head, lobbyists or directors of political-action committees, 40 to a sitting, can have breakfast once a month with the Texan, whose committee takes up trade and tax matters. Republican Packwood, incidentally, charged only $5,000, which makes one wonder whether a more general inflation rise may lie in store under the new congressional leadership.
It's expensive business to run for office. Mr. Bentsen spent $5 million the last time he ran for reelection, in 1982. In some states in 1988, we may see $10 million campaigns. Having breakfast with a politician really differs from those fund-raising dinners only in the hour; they're sad affairs in culinary and other ways. And Bentsen no doubt has a good deal to say - though no more than can be learned from watching him on the weekend TV pundit shows or reading his interviews in the press.
It's the institutionalization of the influence- fund-raising ritual in this manner that is bothersome. It discriminates between those who have money and want power, and your run-of-the-mill citizen and voter. It is not unlike the selling of one-on-one access to the President for major campaign contributions, while ordinary folk, who vote a politician into office, must wait in line outside the White House gate for a walk through the executive mansion, led by a Park Service guide.