Dark Money (2018)
Running Time: 99 mins. Rating: 4 Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Kimberly Reed
In the late 1980’s I served for a couple of tours as a concessionaire with American Indian Dance Theatre. While on a Western tour, we found ourselves in Helena, Montana. Taking a much-needed cigarette break in front of our venue I was approached by a slumped shouldered man. “You’re not from around here?” he quipped. “No, I’m from NYC.” “I’m from Chicago” he replied. “I’ve been out here for 5 years, let me tell you how things work here. The legislature meets every two years for three months, and they spend half of that time repealing laws. If they have any time left, they might pass a law or two.”
Prior to that all that I knew of Montana politics was what I read in Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest. Hammett’s first novel which uses the Butte Montana mining strike as a backdrop for a sordid story of murder and political corruption. When I saw the new documentary DARK MONEY, beautifully directed by Kimberly Reed at the IFC Center, I did in fact learn quite a bit about how things work in Montana politics.
The film traces the influence of untraceable corporate monies in the campaigns of both Republican and Democratic citizen politicians running for office and reelection. I will tell you more, but first a brief history lesson. In the early 20th Century The Anaconda Copper Mining Company was the largest corporate entity in Montana, as part of their effort to influence state politics they began to buy off legislative candidates. The people of Montana responded briskly by outlawing all corporate campaign donations in 1912. This law stood in force until made unconstitutional by the Citizen’s United Supreme Court Decision.
Flash forward to modern times: Dirty tricks in electoral campaigns funded by the Koch network and corporate entities are using front groups to fund direct mail smear campaigns against targeted candidates running for office. A tenacious newspaper reporter aptly named John Adams is tracing and investigating this flow of money and its use, and he’s becomes a principle player in the narrative. The death of the newspaper industry in Montana becomes a secondary story, and since the Fourth Estate is the only remaining vehicle for oversight it makes it all the more poignant.
Without such heroes, DARK MONEY would be a very depressing narrative, instead it is an often didactic, often inspiring exercise in fighting for fair play, and citizen rights. It is a must see, playing now at the IFC Center. It also is funded in part by PBS money so it is a sure bet that you will be able to see it on POV. Please do so, it is a very important film.
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