Campaign spending in this fall's elections has sprinted to record heights and is still climbing.
Particularly dramatic is the funding surge in behalf of candidates for governor, including some who seem to have little opposition.
In New York, for example, Lewis Lehrman, an aspirant for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, has spent $5.7 million - a substantial portion of it his own money - on his candidacy.
''This has made a mockery of the electoral process,'' says James Diamond, executive director of Common Cause in New York. Reform in the campaign financing regulations, he contends, ''is long overdue.''
Mr. Diamond warns that unless restrictions are placed not only on what office seekers can spend, but also on what can be contributed to their campaigns, well-qualified potential candidates will be priced out of elections.
Big-budget candidates counter such arguments by explaining that the costs of campaigning are escalating. With radio, TV, polling, and other expensive voter-attracting approaches, heavy spending can hardly be avoided in waging a successful ballot battle.
Thomas Houston, chairman of California's Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), attributes the surge in spending to an increased availability of contributions. ''Money for statewide races is flowing more freely than ever before. What candidates can raise, they spend,'' he observes.
Mr. Lehrman's GOP primary foe, attorney Paul Curran, has spent $284,000.
New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch, in his quest for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, has plowed some $1.8 million of the $2.7 million he had raised through late August into his campaign.
Lt. Gov. Mario Cuomo, his primary opponent, on the other hand, has spent $870 ,000 of $1.1 million he has raised.
In California's June 8 primary, candidates for governor spent an unprecedented $14.1 million-plus in their campaigns, according to reports filed with the state's FPPC.
Three candidates accounted for nearly $13 million of that - $4.3 million for Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, the Democratic winner; $4.2 million for Attorney General George Deukmejian, the Republican nominee; and $4.2 million for Lt. Gov. Mike Curb, the GOP runner-up.
FPPC chairman Houston anticipates that the 1982 gubernatorial nominees will each spend $5 million to $6 million in their post-primary election campaigns.
Massachusetts, with substantially less than one-quarter the population of California and only about 1/20th of the land area, has been the scene of a free-spending, two-way tussle for the Democratic nomination. Incumbent Gov. Edward J. King has raised and shelled out in excess of $2.4 million. His Democratic rival, former Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, as of late August had taken in close to $2 million but spent about $1.6 million.
By contrast the three GOP contenders for the Bay State governor's race had raised and spent only slightly more than $700,000, close to three-quarters of that by John R. Lakian, the millionaire businessman and political newcomer and the endorsee of the GOP's nonbinding convention last March.
Combined campaign spending for the Sept. 14 primary by this year's Massachusetts candidates for governor was nearly $5 million - almost as much as both parties' contenders for that office poured out in the primary and general elections in 1978.
In Illinois, Republican Gov. James Thompson, seeking a third term, has spent Former US Sen. Adlai E. Stevenson III, the Democratic nominee, who like Mr. Thompson ran unopposed in last spring's state primary, has spent nearly $760,000 of the $810,000 donated to his political cause through June.
Contributing substantially to rising campaign costs is the increased use of television and radio by candidates. In Massachusetts, for example, Governor King has spent $2 million on these media and Mr. Dukakis about $750,000 thus far.
Candidates are required by law to pay in advance for broadcast messages and other forms of advertising. But media industry sources say that although costs have escalated, the rates are often lower than those charged commercial advertisers.
In New York City a prime-time 20-second television spot costs $6,000. The price tag for a similar political message in Boston runs from $2,000 to $4,000.
Many gubernatorial campaigns are also plowing enormous sums into larger staffs, extensive travel, bigger phone banks, direct-mail appeals for funds and ballot support, and professional polling of prospective voters.