Editorial writers around the state were relentless.

Then the mail from constituents started piling up in his Washington office.Finally, whenever Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy went home to Vermont, which was almost every weekend, somebody on the street or in a town meeting would raise the issue.

It got to the point where the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee couldn't go to a grocery store in Montpelier, the state capital and a city of 8,000, without somebody coming up to him and saying: "Pat, you shouldn't be takin' that money."

One morning when Leahy returned to his office after a weekend visit home, he convened a staff meeting and announced he voluntarily would stop accepting the speaking fees called honorariums as of Jan. 1.

Leahy thus became one of the newest converts to the movement to ban honorariums. A senator this year legally may take almost $24,000 from special interest groups - in bites of $2,000 each - for making speeches, touring plants, participating in roundtable discussions or just going to breakfast. The speaking fees supplement the annual Senate salary of $101,900.

Once again, some in the Senate want to ban honorariums, which critics contend are practically bribes. As he did in the last session of Congress, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., has introduced a bill to prohibit senators from taking honorariums. The bill also would limit outside income to 15 percent of a senator's salary.

Similar ethics rules govern every other branch of government, leaving the Senate and its staff standing alone, the last honorarium-eating dinosaurs of public service.

"It is not my belief that senators in this chamber sell their influence," Dodd said on the Senate floor. "However, this practice casts the institution in a poor light; it creates the perception of influence peddling, of an institution whose members have a $2,000 price tag."

Dodd, who stopped accepting honorariums in 1989, also cited a 1990 Harris Poll that found only 15 percent of Americans had "a great deal of confidence" in Congress.

Dodd's bill, which Leahy is co-sponsoring, would bring the Senate into line with the House, with one major difference. The House got rid of honorariums but gave itself a hefty pay raise. Dodd's bill is mum on the subject of pay.

In late 1989, the House voted itself a 25 percent pay raise to $125,100 and banned honorariums as of Jan. 1, 1991. The Senate, sometimes called "the Millionaires' Club," couldn't bring itself to go that far. Senators last year settled for a cost-of-living pay hike and a corresponding reduction in the ceiling on honorariums

They also voted overwhelmingly - 77-23 - for Dodd's bill banning honorariums, but the ban was attached to a controversial campaign finance reform bill. No one was surprised when that bill and the ban on honorariums died in a House-Senate conference committee.

The same thing could happen again. The ban likely will become part of a new campaign finance reform measure the Senate will consider later this year.