WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Republican National Committee outraised its Democratic counterpart by nearly 2-to-1 during the first three months of 1998.

The RNC reported raising $8.4 million last month, bringing its total for the year to $23.4 million, Federal Election Commission records show. The Democratic National Committee on April 9 announced it had raised $12.4 million during the same period, with President Clinton remaining a huge fund-raising draw.

Soft money _ the unregulated sums used for party-building activities or issue advertisements _ accounted for $4 million of the RNC money.

The most generous contributor was Indiana-based Conseco and its chairman, Stephen C. Hilbert. They gave $400,000.

Conseco, an insurance company, bought a lending firm, Green Tree, in April, shortly after the much-larger Citicorp-Travelers merger. Both mergers would benefit from legislation pending in Congress that would allow banks, insurance companies and securities brokers to enter each other's businesses.

Hilbert and Conseco also gave $25,000 to the RNC in October and $120,000 in the 1995-96 election cycle.

A.G. Spanos Construction of California contributed $250,000 last month. The construction company also gave $25,000 last year and $115,000 in 1995-96.

Other big givers included Paine Webber, which gave $115,000; Cigna, the insurance company, which gave $100,000; and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which contributed $95,000.

The RNC reported a debt of $500,000, compared to the Democratic National Committee's debt at the end of March of $9.3 million.