WASHINGTON (AP) _ In his election night victory speech, Bill Clinton promised to reduce the influence of fat-cat contributors. But just hours earlier his campaign workers got word they'd be getting an extra paycheck paid in part by those very same donors.

The golden handshake was provided by the Democratic Party, which moved about 500 of the Clinton campaign faithful to its payroll for the period from Nov. 6-16 as a sort of victory bonus.

''In the real world, people usually get two weeks (of severance pay) and we wanted to do the same ... to help out the hundreds of people who worked real hard to elect Bill Clinton and Al Gore,'' said Ginny Terzano, a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman.

Thirty-five percent of political party payrolls come from so-called soft money - donations that are exempt from the post-Watergate contribution limits and prohibitions against corporate and union money.

Parties are supposed to use soft money for party-building activities, like get-out-the-vote drives and administrative costs, and are forbidden from directly spending it to help federal campaigns.

A fraction of the $20 million-plus in large donations that Democrats collected this election from unions, corporations and fat cats went to pay part of the Clinton salary tab, Terzano said.

To stay within the law, Terzano said, the party was treating the campaign staffers as temporary DNC employees working on party-related work or the transition process. The party can provide unlimited amounts of help to Clinton's transition team.

The arrangement was not lost on campaign finance watchdogs, who recalled Clinton's election-night promise to bring an end to special interest and fat- cat influence in elections.

''It's a lack of recognition of how systemic the problem of big money in politics is. Clinton's true test of how sincere he is is to demonstrate a new sensitivity to issues just like this,'' said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.

Dee Dee Myers, a Clinton spokeswoman, scoffed at any suggestion the arrangement conflicted with the president-elect's position on campaign reform.

''This is just a symbol of how much Bill Clinton cares about the young workers. We found a way to get an extra paycheck so they could get home, begin looking for new work and maybe buy a Christmas gift for their mothers,'' she said.

Others questioned whether the maneuver was not an attempt to get around the $55.2 million spending limit Clinton agreed to when he accepted full taxpayer financing for his fall campaign.

''These spending limits force the campaigns into creative circumventions of the law ... that while they may be technically legal may violate the spirit of the law,'' said Herb Alexander, a University of Southern California campaign finance expert who opposes the spending limits.

The Clinton campaign, which spent much of its campaign budget building the early lead it rode to victory, acknowledged it was approaching a ''zero- budget'' as the election neared.

On Election Day, weary staffers got the news their next paycheck would be coming from the Democratic Party.

''The told us to fill out forms transferring us to the DNC. I was so tired it could have been a second mortgage I was signing. But we didn't ask any questions, we just did it,'' said one campaign staffer, speaking on condition she not be named.

Federal Election Commission spokesman Scott Moxley said the agency in the past has advised campaigns that kept staff on the payroll after the election to pay the tab out of their legally limited funds so as not to run afoul of the spending limits.

Traditionally campaign staff, with the exception of the few accountants and lawyers who close down the operations, get their last paycheck around Election Day.

Jan Baran, chief lawyer for the Bush campaign in 1988, said winning campaign workers four years ago stayed on the campaign payroll for about a week, then most shifted to the inauguration planning committee bankrolled by private donors.