Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., the right-wing independent presidential candidate, aired 14 half-hour nationally broadcast political advertisements last year, at a cost of up to $230,000 each.
Sitting beside a fireplace in his rented Loudoun County mansion, LaRouche told viewers that the Soviets were planning nuclear war, that Democratic presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale and his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, are pro-Soviet and that Mondale is a Soviet secret police "agent of influence."
While LaRouche was the most visible of his group's electoral candidates last year, he was hardly alone.
The LaRouche-affiliated National Democratic Policy Committee (NDPC) said it ran 2,000 candidates for various offices around the country in 1984.
Members of NDPC, who call themselves "LaRouche Democrats," have been elected to local school boards, city councils and party committees, according to LaRouche associates and published reports. Although they have never won a statewide election, they sometimes receive as much as 30 percent of the vote.
The group says it tries to appeal to conservatives, and its candidates often are promilitary, prodevelopment and strongly anticommunist.
Many NDPC activists have said they are not members of LaRouche's core group. Persons familiar with both the NDPC and the LaRouche group say many NDPC activists have only passing understanding of the workings of the LaRouche organization.
Ralph Dratman, a New Jersey engineer, said that he was drawn to the LaRouche campaign when he saw one of its televised advertisements. He later subscribed to one of the group's publications, and he extended loans totaling $1,000 to LaRouche's presidential campaign, Dratman said.
Dratman said he agreed with some of the ideas of the LaRouche group but found others "half-crazed." Dratman said that the LaRouche campaign is several months late in repaying his loans, and that he is "resigned to not being repaid."
Edward Elliott, a retired barber from Kensington who loaned LaRouche's campaign $925 last year, said he subscribed to some LaRouche-affiliated publications and joined the LaRouche-affiliated Schiller Institute after some LaRouche followers visited him at his home about two years ago.
"I think he's a very intelligent man," Elliott said. "He's trying to do something for this country."
"He's interested in bringing more culture, in bringing the spirit of the American Revolution back," Elliott said. "I'm a conservative, I'm a Republican. He supports Reagan and tries to get him not to back down on some of his principles."
At the same time, the Democratic Party has criticized the NDPC for using the word "Democratic" in its name.
"The LaRouche cult has attempted to deceive the public into believing that they are part of the national Democratic Party," Democratic National Committee Chairman Charles T. Manatt said in a statement. "There is, of course, absolutely no connection whatsoever. We strongly condemn the activities of this fanatical cult."
But despite the criticism of Democratic leaders, LaRouche has managed to raise large amounts of money for his presidential campaigns -- more each time he runs.
In 1976, when LaRouche ran for president on the U.S. Labor Party ticket, he raised $176,000 and received 40,000 votes, Federal Election Commission officials said.
In 1980, he raised $2.14 million to run in the Democratic primary (including $530,000 in federal matching funds), commission officials said. He did not run in the general election.
Last year, running as an independent, he raised $6.1 million ($494,000 of that in matching funds) and received 78,000 votes while appearing on the ballot in 18 states and the District of Columbia.
LaRouche was not on the ballot last year in Maryland. He received just 127 votes in the District, but he fared much better in Virginia. There he amassed 13,307 votes -- his second highest showing, behind Texas, where he received 14,613 votes.