Dark Money

PBS Premiere: Oct. 1, 2018Check the broadcast schedule »

Filmmaker Statement

When I heard about the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision on the radio in 2010, I froze in the middle of my apartment. Like many Americans, I found the concepts that corporations are people and money is speech ludicrous. But worse than that was the easily foreseeable consequence that political power would soon be controlled by fewer and fewer, richer and richer people. I was not alone in my dismay. According to a 2016 CBS poll, approximately 80 percent of Americans have consistently disapproved of that decision.

For a few years, I didn't know quite what to do about my frustration with our crippled campaign finance system. As a filmmaker, my first impulse was to make a documentary about it. I explored a bit and discovered there weren't any major films on the subject. Everybody, including campaign finance experts, told me it was a crucial topic, but too abstract and obfuscated to be the subject of a film--not to mention notoriously difficult to dramatize.

When I heard my home state of Montana would be the only state to fight back against Citizens United in the U.S. Supreme Court, everything changed. As a fourth-generation Montanan--and Montana is a state where people routinely introduce themselves that way--I knew I could tell a compelling story of campaign finance through the eyes of real people. I grabbed the best camera I could get my hands on and started filming.

That journey, which started in 2012, led me across the state and to D.C. up until 2017. The only way to really understand how the dark money shell game works is to follow groups over multiple election cycles as they pop up, disintegrate, reconstitute with different patriotic-sounding names and wreak mysterious havoc. It usually takes journalists years to uncover the damage that dark money causes, and by that time it is too late.

I played this game of whack-a-mole over three election cycles in what became the perfect environment to tell the campaign finance story. The Treasure State was not only the first and hardest hit with dark money, but also the state that fought back the hardest with grassroots citizen outrage. Our story puts a human face on that outrage.

As we told this story through the lives of real people, we made a concerted effort to share stories from both sides of the aisle. In fact, several featured subjects are Republican legislators who are attacked by the far-right wing of their own party. It was important to me to remind folks that campaign spending is not a liberal or conservative issue--it's something that affects all Americans, not just Montanans, regardless of ideology.

I was blessed to have access to people in the highest levels of state government. I chose to focus the story on John S. Adams, an investigative reporter who "follows the money" during a controversial trial, which culminates in a gripping courtroom thriller that personifies the campaign finance battle. The documentary gods were smiling upon our film, and it was a thrill to watch it all unfold as we were filming.

Money in politics has never been more crucial or timely. Dark money contributions increased a stunning 60-fold in 2012 (the first election after Citizens United) and spending on 2018 campaigns has already far surpassed that of 2016 campaigns. I am excited that this film is premiering in the midst of the 2018 election cycle. I believe campaign spending is the most fundamental political issue of our time, and the film comes at a time when solving it is critical. I hope Dark Money will educate and inspire people to demand reform.

-- Kimberly Reed, Director/Producer