by filmmaker Kimberly Reed
It’s been a few years since my last film—Prodigal Sons—played at Landmark Theatres, so I’m thrilled to share Dark Money with you. At first glance it might seem that an autobiographical documentary has little to do with a piece of investigative journalism revealing the money that fuels American politics, but after seeing the gobsmacking twists and turns in Dark Money, I think you’ll recognize surprising similarities.
Dark Money began with a few ingredients. The first was—as with the vast majority of Americans—disagreement with the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United. The Court said that because corporations are people and money is speech, corporations are free to "speak" with unlimited amounts of money to influence political campaigns. And because nonprofit corporations are not required to disclose their funding sources, the money can even remain anonymous.
The second ingredient was access to the story. I saw that my home state of Montana was leading the fight against Citizens United, so I knew I’d have the access to follow the story over multiple election cycles. After six years of filming, the result is a film that plays more like a spy novel than a documentary about money.
Another key ingredient is a strong spirit of bipartisanship. Though our film discusses political campaigns, it is by no means a partisan film. In fact, the main mystery at the center of Dark Money is the question of why Republicans are attacking other Republicans with anonymous money. In these days of extreme political polarization, one of the few remaining issues where there’s broad bipartisan agreement is campaign finance reform, and I was committed to making a film that would appeal to all Americans—independents, conservatives, progressives, even disaffected voters—and not just “preach to the choir.” All of us deserve a democracy run by real people, not by a handful of billionaires.
I found lots of buried treasure, and I hope you can go on that journey with me. The main thing I discovered is that Montana is the ideal case study to tell the story of money-in-politics, especially when it comes to the shady dark money groups whose main goal is to make it hard to connect the dots. But Dark Money connects the dots!
Crazy political news is breaking fast and furious these days. I’m betting a wild story has broken in the last day or two since this letter has been posted, and you’re probably feeling like it’s hard to keep up. The one thing we can count on is that big money is at the root of that crazy news, and if the money is anonymous you can be sure it’s up to no good. So let’s all start by figuring who’s trying to control power and politics.
Our film reveals how this dark money shell game works. It feels really good to solve that puzzle, and I promise there’s a hopeful and inspiring story in the end, in which the citizens and politicians of Montana work together to pass very strong campaign finance reform laws to put people, not money, at the center of politics. Whatever city or state we may live in, we can come together to do the same.