Most Americans believe that corporate takeovers, including mergers, acquisitions and leveraged buyouts, involve corruption and should be regulated by Congress, a survey showed.

The poll, sponsored by Mead Data Central's LEXIS computer-assisted legal research service and the National Law Journal, a trade publication, showed that 35 percent of 808 Americans queried in late January said they believe corporate takeovers entail a "great deal of corruption," while 49 percent said the deals involve "some corruption."Also, two-thirds of the group said penalties for insider trading, stock manipulation, false disclosures and other violations of the securities law are "too lenient."

Only 11 percent viewed the takeover process as "basically honest," while 5 percent had no opinion.

The survey, released Monday, cut across political, regional and economic lines. Fifty-two percent were Caucasian, 10 percent were black and 4 percent were Hispanic. Twenty-three percent called themselves liberal; 35 percent, moderates; and 35 percent, conservative. More Democrats than Republicans were polled, 40 percent compared with 28 percent, respectively.

Slightly more than half, 54 percent, of the group said that workers are hurt most by takeovers, while 24 percent said consumers are the hardest hit.

More than a fifth of the group said that they or someone in their immediate family had worked for a company involved in a takeover in the past three years. Of that sector, almost 50 percent reported negative consequences including loss of job (24 percent), more stress (11 percent), less pay (7 percent) and demotion (2 percent).

A third of the group said the greatest benefit of takeover activity is that it creates new jobs. Ironically, however, when asked what was the biggest problem presented by takeovers, 36 percent cited a loss of jobs.

Two-thirds of the group favored congressional intervention for LBOs, which are takeovers financed by large debt. In regard to mergers and acquisitions, 35 percent supported federal action, 22 percent favored state legislation and 34 percent said corporations could look after themselves.

Of the possible regulatory steps Congress might take, most popular were removing the tax incentives that corporations get from borrowing funds to buy out other businesses (32 percent), stopping public pension funds from financing takeovers (17 percent) and making information about takeovers available to the public sooner (16 percent).

Only 11 percent of the group supported proposals to allow more time for competitive bidding in takeovers.

The survey was conducted by Penn & Shoen Associates Inc. of New York.