Shining a light on Dark Money

B Political documentary
Directed by Kimberly Reed

Kimberly Reed’s documentary covers one of the most important issues in America today: the legal bribery system that drives the American form of democracy. Aside from global warming – and of course there’s a connection – It’s about as important an issue as you could think of. Unfortunately, Dark Money throws so much information at you that you can’t absorb it. It has its moments, but it’s often emotionally remote.

And, of course, it has the fault you’ll find in almost every political documentary: It will only reach the audience that already agrees with the message. On the other hand, its moderately optimistic ending might help audience members go out and fight to change our system.

You probably already know the basics. Laws, both state and federal, limit how much you can donate to a political campaign, and your donation is part of the public record. But thanks to the Supreme Court’s atrocious Citizens United decision, you can donate any amount of money (assume you have that kind of money), with no disclosure, to an organization that will spend it to affect elections.

Dark Money concentrates on one state, Montana, a generally conservative state that historically has had strong fair election laws. Indirectly, this documentary illustrates how the Republican Party went from conservative to bat-shit crazy. Moderate Republicans were wiped out in the primaries through shock and awe attacks because they wouldn’t support every single bill backed by the Koch Brother and other similar billionaires.

There’s another reason to concentrate on Montana. It’s rich in natural resources. Mining and other activities have despoiled the earth and encouraged the exploitation of working people. A significant number of those working people fought back. Those strong fair election laws didn’t come from nowhere.

The film has one charismatic hero, investigative journalist John S. Adams. Charming and determined, he works with others to find out what’s really going on. Even after he loses his job and becomes homeless, he continues to work on this issue via his website, The Montana Free Press.

Near the end, Dark Money tells us about successful fair election laws passed by Montana and other states, and suggests that you emulate these laws in your own home turf. But it also acknowledges that without federal laws, their use is limited.

Unfortunately, director Reed can’t seem to create a dramatic story out of searching through legal paper and discussing one lost election after another. The film is sometimes difficult to follow.

Dark Money puts a lot of important information into our hands. One good article – presumably one written by Adams – would have provided the same information in a third of the time. This issue needs a better documentary.