The Post's headline on Sen. David Boren's op-ed piece on campaign reform {June 30} reads, "It's Time to Cut PAC Power." But in the piece itself PACs are mentioned only once, in passing.

Instead, the article focuses on spending limits and taxpayer financing of campaigns. It envisions an elaborate scheme to limit what candidates can spend communicating their ideas to the public and how much individuals can contribute to support those ideas. It says that Americans spend too much on political communication and on choosing the best candidates. Finally, it urges Congress to freeze overall political activity, and supplant individual contributions with government subsidies. Astonishingly, these measures are advanced in the name of "restoring grass-roots democracy."

Most people agree that special interests -- particularly political action committees (PACs) -- have too much clout. Yet the bizarre response is to cut individuals out of the process, institute government financing, and merely slap the wrists of special interests. If we don't clear away these clouds and address real problems directly, the Senate's three-week-old deadlock on campaign finance reform will only harden.

Yet Sen. Boren's latest proposal launches an all-out, unconstitutional attack on campaign spending and contributions by using the power of the federal government to punish candidates whose spending and support exceed government-set limits. In the landmark case of Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court held that the "First Amendment denies government the power to determine that spending to promote one's political views is . . . excessive. In the free society ordained by our Constitution, it is not the government but the people . . . who must retain control over the quantity and range of debate . . . in a political campaign."

Nonetheless, Buckley allowed the government to provide taxpayer financing of campaigns, and to condition acceptance of such funds on adherence to spending limits. This public funding "incentive" is used to control spending in presidential races, even though taxpayer support of the program seems to be waning.

In the presidential system, however, there is no penalty on nonparticipating candidates; they just have to work harder than their government-funded opponents. The Boren proposal, on the other hand, would punish candidates who asserted their right to unlimited support and spending by requiring them to "disclose" their constitutionally protected activity in content-regulated campaign ads. Further, if the candidate exceeded the spending limit, his opponent would receive a huge check from the government. Thus, popular candidates who refused government control over their campaigns would be punished by having their popular support and vigorous spending trigger entitlements to their opponents.

This proposal seriously misconstrues the Supreme Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo and ignores the free-speech values protected in that decision. Congress can spend taxpayer money to encourage spending limits, if the public is willing to pay for it. But it is flatly unconstitutional for the government to punish candidates and citizens for exercising First Amendment rights.

Fortunately, there are ways to address the public's concerns about campaign financing without violating the Constitution or dipping into the public till. If Congress wants to eradicate special-interest influence in politics, it can pass a bill that reduces or eliminates PAC contributions to candidates and political parties, and clamps down on the "bundling" and "soft money" activities of special interests.

Cleansing the system of special-interest money also would make public figures rely on people back home for support, especially small individual contributors. This change would sow new seeds of grass-roots democracy. By comparison, preempting local contributions with federal entitlements would only insulate Washington lawmakers from their constituents. As David Broder recently noted about the presidential system, "{p}ublic financing . . . has meant a virtual shutdown of local headquarters financed by small contributions. Grass-roots democracy has died."

Without special-interest money, candidates would have less to spend on campaigns. To make up the difference, Congress could cut campaign costs by providing a meaningful broadcast rate discount. From 1978 to 1986, both PAC contributions and campaign spending for television ads increased by $100 million. A worthy campaign finance compromise would cut back these two primary causes of spending increases, and leave individual contributors and taxpayers alone.

People contribute when there is strong competition between candidates and when they get interested in the issues. The vigorous spending this allows pays for heightened political activity and better voter education. The obvious result is that voter turnout increases dramatically. In 1986 voter turnout was highest in states where the most was spent per voter, while nearly every low-spending state suffered extremely low turnout. Reviewing similar findings in 1979, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard concluded that "most campaigns spend too little money, not too much." This was after campaign spending had increased 70 percent in two years; recent increases have been far more modest.

Clearly, it's time to cut PAC power. But in doing so, let's put the people back in control, and leave the government out of it.

The writer is a Republican senator from Kentucky.