The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down another campaign limitation—the cumulative amount an individual can give to campaigns.  So what else is new?

Money and politics go together like the birds and the bees.  Despite the almost universal disgust at the way campaign money distorts the democratic process, the reality is that it would be easier to repeal the law of gravity than to get money out of politics.  What we can and should do is get it all out in the open.

For those who wonder how millions of dollars can be spent on campaigns for political offices that barely pay six figures, you only have to look at what is at stake–budgets adding up into the billions and trillions, decisions that  shape the economic climate and make or break companies, policies that impact the pocketbooks and quality of life for all of us.  With so much at stake,  it is no wonder that political spending  has grown by leaps and bounds with no end in sight. Money goes to power and power goes to money.

Most efforts at campaign finance reform have fallen flat.  Can anyone really say that the  McCain-Feingold political reforms have reduced the impact of money on the political process or made things in Washington cleaner or more transparent?  In Citizens United and other court cases,  reform laws have bumped up squarely against the First Amendment leaving loopholes wide enough to  drive through with a freight train.  It has been said that political money is like water going downhill–one way or another it will find its way to the bottom.  Trying to plug the leaks in the campaign finance regulatory system is like playing Whack-a-Mole–every time you close a trick to get around the law, two more pop up.

This is a system that can be gamed with impunity.  Any individual with initiative and good legal advice can get around campaign laws that try to limit contributions or expenditures.  Occasionally big players will outsmart themselves, but for the most part it is the naive and unsophisticated who cross over the line  and actually violate campaign finance regulations.

Limits on expenditures and contributions simply push the game into the shadows.  Independent expenditure committees give the candidates deniability and donors cover.  Well-intentioned laws like McCain-Feingold have just driven political money underground.  The First Amendment protects political speech and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but free speech makes it virtually impossible to reduce the influence of money on the political process.

Probably, the most  encouraging development to dilute the clout of big donors has been the growth of online fundraising.  Making a contribution requires just a few clicks and thousands of small donations add up quickly.  Both President Obama’s campaign and the Tea Party have shown that hundreds of millions of dollars can be harvested from small donors.

While limits don’t work, transparency can.  With today’s technology, it should be possible to have instant reporting from candidates, donors and independent expenditure groups and organizations that can be available online immediately. Politics is a contact sport and  opposition candidates and the media  can make folks pay for receiving and giving contributions that don’t pass the smell test.  Congress and the states should pass laws that open up the windows and let the sunshine in.

California’s legendary political powerhouse Jesse Unruh said that “money is the mother’s milk of politics.”  At least, we ought to know if the milk is contaminated.

Alan Schwartz is a Southern California investor and business leader who has long been active in politics and civic affairs.