FORTUNE -- One narrative of election year 2010 was shaped long before any votes were tabulated. President Barack Obama penned the first chapter with his January condemnation of a Supreme Court ruling that lifted government prohibitions on spending by corporations in elections. The 5-to-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission "strikes at our democracy itself," he said. Democrats and the media followed with tales of horror and fright, warning of corporate super-PACs and foreign donors. You could practically hear the theme from Jaws rumbling in the background.
But if American democracy really is being threatened by special-interest dollars, let's pose this question: Why -- after a decade of "reform" -- is there more money being spent, more outside electioneering, more negative advertising? Could it be because Washington's attempt at regulating campaign finance, treated as a sacred cause by editorial pages, has only led to absurd consequences?
Anyone who has been around Washington politics long enough can't avoid this truism: Election-year money is like a rushing river that invariably finds cracks in any dam the reformers erect. In 2002, Congress passed the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law to stop the flow of corrupting special-interest money -- uncapped donations known as "soft money" -- going to political parties.