DARK MONEY, a political thriller, examines one of the greatest present threats to American democracy: the influence of untraceable corporate money on our elections and elected officials. The film takes viewers to Montana—a frontline in the fight to preserve fair elections nationwide—to follow an intrepid local journalist working to expose the real-life impacts of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Through this gripping story, DARK MONEY uncovers the shocking and vital truth of how American elections are bought and sold. This Sundance award-winning documentary is directed/produced by Kimberly Reed (PRODIGAL SONS) and produced by Katy Chevigny (E-TEAM).
“I’m from Montana. So, I was living in New York at the time and following what was going on in my home state. There’s actually a really strong tradition of people covering campaign finance. I was reading John’s reporting and Chuck Johnson’s reporting and that’s how I first got in touch with him. I first started making the film in 2012, I met John in 2013. I finally convinced him to go on camera in 2014 and that was because of after following this really abstract story about people who are intentionally trying to hide money – it’s not the most cinematic subject that you can think of. I had watched the All the President’s Men a couple of times…about ten times. Which is a very important film for all of us to watch these days. I saw how effective that narrative structure was, where you kind of see the world through the eyes of this investigative reporter who is digging into things. I thought he was going to be that, he was just going to be this narrative strategy, but when he went through all of this stuff in his personal life about losing his job…you see how important all of this stuff is to him, it became apparent to me John was becoming emblematic of what journalism is going through at large in the country…”
“…The whistle blower who was the star witness in the trial … she just kind of stepped out of that job [young campaign worker]. Which really was the first job she ever had, in her early 20’s, turned 21 on the job, had her first beer on the job and she just kind of stepped back from that and realized ‘wow what we were doing was really not cool,’ and she got back to Colorado where she’s from and saw how you do it above board and realized that, that what she was doing was wrong and that she needed to blow the whistle on that. I think what she did was really brave. We as the general public and I hope that you feel this way after the seeing the film, we are lucky that we can see what actually happens because of whistleblowers like her. All of us are very lucky that we can see the benefit of what shows up in a box of stolen documents in a meth house in Colorado…that we can actually piece together the game plan for how a lot of these political campaigns are run, and run on a routine basis these days. I mean this is pretty much the typical game plan to run political campaigns if you’re a campaign consultant. What really motivated me to tell the story is that it’s so rare that you get a chance to connect all of these dots… I think a lot of us probably sense there’s a lot of corruption, ‘I bet this is going on, but I’m not quite sure,’ we had a chance to say ‘yes it is, this stuff is going on, this is how it works,’ this is how a couple of people with a bunch of money, working anonymously, can move elections and defy and drown out the will of everyday folks who are supposed to be apart of a healthy functioning democracy. Having the chance to tell this story was a really special opportunity. The fact that it ends up with this trial with Sarah, the whistle blower and had this natural drama to it made it even more exciting for us to chase.” -Filmmaker Kim Reed
Q: I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about Dark Money and the Kavanaugh nomination?
Kim: The way that Dark Money really started functioning is in candidate elections… One of the things that I have seen just from my own personal experience since working on this film since 2012 is the way that exploitation of this dark money loophole has changed and migrated and got more and more expert. One of the big shifts that I saw personally and that we’re seeing nationwide, and you’re certainly seeing it here in North Carolina is that it moved just from operating in candidate elections to really starting to move policy decisions. We’re seeing the influence of dark money increase in all of these aspects of our public life and our civil life.
Q: What suggestions do you have for focusing on hope in North Carolina?
Kim: I’m so glad you’re getting that sense of hope because that’s what it’s all about. I don’t want y’all to be too bummed out. There’s a lot that we can do. One thing, the most important thing, is transparency. One of the things that a lot of people don’t realize is that even within the citizen’s united decision that whole decision is built on transparency. It’s built on disclosure. There’s an 8:1 opinion that says ‘yeah all of this works’ only because we’re assuming that there’s going to be this disclosure. If you don’t have this disclosure if you dont know where the money is coming from then the whole system falls apart and that’s what has been happening because they haven’t been enforcing those disclosure laws in most states. Hold your elected officials accountable and make sure they know the rules of the game. If you’re going to run for office, you’re going to need to have a position on this. That kind of flips the script, voter education, this media awareness. The next big step, there are some folks from American Promise here – go to DarkMoneyFilm.com and there’s a page called Get Involved and there’s a list of a lot of organizations where you can get involved, one of which is American Promise.
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blog post and photography by a/ staff kristen m. bryant