Sunday, December 30, 2018

Movie with Abe: Dark Money

Dark Money
Directed by Kimberly Reed
Released July 13, 2018

Money has the power to do many things, and those who have it in turn are able to exercise an enormous amount of control over whatever they want. This is especially true in politics, where votes can be directly influenced by advertising, and negative press as a deterrent often works much better than efforts to bolster a candidate. The amount spent on campaigns these days is unbelievable, and it’s problematic enough when the sources of funding are known. This documentary seeks to investigate all those contributions that can’t be traced and are far more prevalent than anyone would expect.

This exploration of the proliferation of dark money begins in Montana, where many groups with few members officially on the books are behind targeted advertising launched just days before elections designed to influence voters to suspend their support for a particular candidate because of alleged opinions or actions. Investigative journalist John S. Adams reports and researches extensively, pivoting to federal election commissions to show how, despite the intention of oversight, they are rarely doing their part in ensuring fair practices and the upholding of the law, which itself becomes murky when corporations and the first amendment become all too muddled.

Adams is a great protagonist to anchor this story because he will stop at nothing, including founding his own organization, The Montana Free Press, to continue to expose the process that makes dark money an influential actor in American politics. He frequently diagrams out the confirmed connections between massive organizations and the more shadowy links to these strongly-named fronts created almost explicitly to work against candidates that don’t follow the party line. His frustration with not being able to interview the funders because he doesn’t know who they are is felt as he presses on despite many obstacles. Adams describes the situation as “government controlled by a corporation controlling the people,” a fearsome concept extravagantly illustrated in this investigation.

This is an urgent film that doesn’t discriminate based on party affiliation, even if many of the corporations profiled are right-wing. Elected officials and failed candidates from both major parties decry this practice as something utterly opposite to the idea of democracy and corruptive of the nature of free speech. Those interviewed, as well as Adams, frequently respond with incredulity that their career aspirations have been so easily derailed by powerful people hiding behind invented advocacy groups. This is a thorough and immensely involving exposé fully worthy of inclusion both in PBS’ POV series and on the list of finalists for the Oscar for Best Documentary.


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