WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two dozen members of Congress are using political committees to raise large contributions from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals that they would otherwise be barred from accepting as candidates, new Internal Revenue Service records show.

Those raising so-called soft money donations include several who support a ban on such unlimited contributions, such as Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., the first-ever tax filings show.

A spokesman for Kennedy, the chief fund-raiser for House Democrats, defended the practice.

``We're not going to unilaterally disarm while Republicans spend millions of dollars attempting to disguise their right-wing records and their special interest agenda,'' said John Del Cecato, spokesman for Kennedy's Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Among the two dozen are the top four Republicans in both the Senate and the House.

Over the last decade, lawmakers increasingly have formed leadership political action committees to raise money they can spend on travel, donations to state and local candidates and other activities that sow goodwill.

These PACs report to the Federal Election Commission any donations they raise or give that are regulated by federal law _ donations that are strictly limited in size and usually go to House and Senate candidates.

However, many of the lawmakers have been taking corporate donations through the PACs and spending it on items not regulated by federal law, such as state elections, without having to disclose them.

That changed in the summer when Congress passed a law requiring tax-exempt groups that engage in political activities to disclose their donors _ including leadership PACs that take soft money.

For the first time, lawmakers whose political committees took unlimited donations had to identify themselves to the IRS by August. They'll formally disclose the names of their donors and the amounts later this year.

The Associated Press reviewed the IRS filings and found 25 lawmakers reporting they had PACs taking unregulated soft money contributions.

The list includes some top Republicans, led by House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. Daschle and Kennedy were among the most prominent Democrats.

While they can't spend their soft money donations to aid candidates for the House or Senate, these lawmakers can use the money to help state political parties or elect state legislative candidates, who will redraw congressional district lines after the 2000 census.

``In Nebraska, with state candidates, they can take corporate money,'' explained Deb Fiddelke, speaking for Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., who raises soft money for his Sandhills PAC. ``This allows us to use soft money to help state candidates.''

Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., spent the soft money he raised for his Rely on Our Beliefs PAC to finance events at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

``Obviously, we did some things there that were helpful in terms of party-building activities,'' Blunt said, citing receptions he underwrote for convention delegates.

The list of lawmakers raising soft money for their PACs includes nine senators or House members who support banning such donations. In addition to Kennedy and Daschle, they include Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, the third-ranking Democrat in the House.

These political committees give special interests another avenue for donating to leaders of Congress _ and in amounts they could otherwise not give the lawmakers' re-election campaigns.

House and Senate candidates can accept no more than $1,000 per person per election, no more than $5,000 from political action committees per election and no donations from corporations or unions.

Their leadership PACs, however, can accept five- and six-figure donations straight from corporate or union treasuries.

``That's the abuse of soft money,'' said Donald Simon, general counsel for Common Cause, the advocacy group that supports a ban on large corporate and union donations. ``There are no limits. There are no rules.

``For that reason, there is virtually unlimited potential for corruption and buying influence,'' Simon said. ``That's why it's so dangerous to have powerful members of Congress in the business of accepting unlimited financial gifts from special interests.''