In Kimberly Reed's potent documentary, Montana is a microcosm of the troubling impact of the Citizens United ruling on U.S. democracy.
"Dark Money" looks at how the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision has unraveled nearly a century of relatively clean politicking in Montana, clouding the Big Sky state with an influx of corporate-funded smear campaigns and legislation of dubious pedigree.
It's a case study all too applicable to the nation at large in an era when moneyed interests seem to be trumping (ahem) citizens' will and welfare on every front.
For decades, Montana had arguably the cleanest campaign laws in the U.S., precisely in reaction to a long history of political corruption. Its sparse population and rich natural resources made it particularly vulnerable to private-industry malfeasance...
Montanans strove for a "citizen legislature" of representatives who, while in office, held onto their day jobs -- farmer, schoolteacher, Porta-Potty vendor -- and were resistant to lobbyist bribes because the state's political finance rules were so tight.
Then came the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, creating "corporate personhood" and allowing, in the name of "free speech," unlimited political contributions without donor transparency.
Almost immediately, a new genre of political attack campaigning hit the state, with propaganda and misinformation flooding airwaves and mailboxes. These generally came from hitherto unknown organizations that claimed to be of grassroots origin but whose funding was unknown -- and almost impossible to trace.
Interestingly, many of the targets in this red state were Republicans, albeit those perceived as too moderate or not willing enough to enact the legislative agenda of the Koch brothers and other right-wing puppet masters whom Citizens United now allowed to hide behind the middle-man of the Super-PAC.
People on both sides of the aisle were horrified by this blatant meddling, particularly as it successfully used inflammatory scare tactics to unseat several respected politicos.
Reed's film details the ongoing fight against the influence of the "dark money network." While most protagonists here are elected officials, a principal figure is John Adams, an investigative journalist who continues to relentlessly "follow the money" even after he loses his newspaper job.
Still, "Dark Money" is but a microcosm of what's been happening nationwide. And with bodies like the Federal Election Commission and Supreme Court increasingly stacked to prevent any movement that would derail the trend, it's clear the nation is in trouble.
Since the doc focuses at least as much on Republican as Democratic activism against outside corporate influence-peddling, this is the rare social-justice documentary that few conservatives are likely to find too slanted in theme or perspective.
We need more Americans like Kimberly Reed.