SEN. JESSE HELMS of North Carolina has had a number of problems over the years, but none more philosophically perplexing than his present one. Mr. Helms, known unaffectionately as "Senator No" for his opposition to federal spending, has recently become the giddy recipient of $6.7 million in political contributions - more than double the previous record for a congressional race. This bounty is due to the good, and computer-laden, offices of Richard A. Viguerie, the famed conservative fund-raiser. Every single one of North Carolina's 22 million voters has been sought out by Mr. Helms, whose campaign requires six bookkeepers. Yet that won't spend the $6.7 million. What is Mr. Helms to do?

Mr. Helms's problem would not be so acute if it did not represent a deep inner conflict. In december 1977, shortly after having been dubbed "Senator No," he seized the tag happily, and asked: Isn't it the political yes-men - the politicians who are so free with other people's money - who are the worst enemies of the people?" In December, by the way, a full 11 months before election day, Mr. Helms's coffers had already risen to $1.8 million - of other people's money. This is not to say that he has been "free" with it. He is, in fact, entrapped.

Not the least fascinating figure in this conundrum is the computer-age Mr. Viguerie. Whereas no one else in the country seems to have been able to get a letter through the mails in the past few years, Mr. Viguerie has succeeded in sending out tens of millions, and in receiving almost as many in return. He's really outdone himself this time. And for all the impassioned outcries of John Ingram, Mr. Helms's able opponent, it looks - once again - as if money can buy you love; "Senator No" is way out front. But how will Mr Helms live with himself when the election is over? Even if he can rid of $2 million or $3 million by paying Mr. Viguerie's fee (Mr. Viguerie received $2.6 million from George Wallace); and even if he manages to dribble away the rest on buttons and horns and colorful hats; even then, how will he feel sitting in the high and honorable chamber, thanks to the generous yesses of conservative America, voting no after no after no?