An Illuminating Word With Dark Money Director Kimberly Reed

by Cynthia Biret

Dark Money is a political thriller documenting the influence of corrupt money on the elections in a state, Montana, that is a microcosm of America as a nation.

Directed by Kimberly Reed, who is known for Prodigal Sons, an introspective film about the impact of her gender transition on her family and friends, the film takes a meticulous approach at tracing the hidden players involved in swaying our political future. While these powerful influences may not necessarily be tied with ideology or come from inside our borders, the documentary’s tour de force resides in the persistency of the film’s protagonists to stand up against corporate corruption, from investigative reporter John Adams (The Montana Free Press) to Special Attorney General Gene Jarussi; Montana’s Attorney General Steve Bullock; Commissioner Jonathan Motl; as well as concerned outraged citizens. Uncovering vital truths by following nonprofit corporations over multiple election cycles, the filmmaker shines an unforgiving light on the dirty practices used by super PACs (Political Action Committees) to erode our democracy. This fascinating documentary received the 2018 Sundance Institute / Amazon Studios Producer Award and the David Carr Award for Truth in Non-Fiction Filmmaking.

While history tends to repeat itself, Dark Money reminds us that regardless of the politics of corruption, We the People still have the power to bring change.

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Kimberly Reed

CYNTHIA BIRET: Why did you decide to make this film?

KIMBERLY REED: I heard about the Citizens United decision on the US Supreme Court and I just had to wonder how we got there. They are people who comment on the US Supreme Court who say that Citizens United kind of naturally follows from the Supreme Court jurisprudence that had preceded that. But for me if you just take a step back and think like most Americans did since 2010; it’s consistently been 75 or 80% of the American public that feel the same way I do, and it doesn’t make any sense that corporations are people and have free speech rights and therefore we can spend unlimited money on politics.

In 2012 there was a clash about it in my home state of Montana, and it just seemed that it would be a really good architecture for a really dramatic film. Initially I started following the Supreme Court case where Montana was defending the Corrupt Practices Act of 1912; Mr. Bullock was the Attorney General at the time, so I thought the film might follow the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where we could tell this tidy little story about campaign finance. I was hoping to finish it in 6 months but instead it took 6 years to really get my head around this whole story. Being from Montana, I knew I would have really good access, but I also realized that in 2010 -2012, everybody was talking about Super PACs, because they can donate unlimited money to a campaign. In retrospect I now understand that it was a pilot program engineered and test-driven there; and that even as far back as 2008 it wasn’t just an issue of having unlimited money; it was the anonymous money part that had the potential to really undermine our democracy. You need to follow these types of groups over multiple election cycles to see how they really work. For instance in 2008 there was a group called Western Tradition Partnership that sort of disbanded and reappeared in 2010 under the name of American Tradition Partnership. When it started to look like the case that we were following since 2010 was going to end up in a trial, it became even more interesting.

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