This year, dark money spending on TV ads has increased 86% compared to the comparable point in the 2014 midterm elections.
By David Moore
Shadowy election spending was hit with a spotlight as the “Dark Money” film held its nationwide premiere on PBS last night.
In the documentary, sketching out the money flows between front groups earns the tension and narrative of a political thriller. Filmmaker Kimberly Reed follows journalist John S. Adams as he tracks dark money in Montana over three election cycles, from 2012 through 2016.
“Dark Money” offers a detailed view of the dedicated work of investigative journalism: substantive campaign finance research exposing special interests, building up to courtroom drama in taking on distant corporate powers.
“Dark Money” documentary about shadowy election spending in Montana and transparency in campaign finance, is available online through October 31st on the POV Docs website.
“Dark money is any money in an election or an issue campaign where we don’t know the source of it,” says Kimberly Reed. “The whole reason we have campaign finance laws is so we can ‘follow the money’… if there is going to be money washing around in a campaign, at least citizens can suss out what its impact is going to be.”
The interview discussed the latest “gray money” tactics of election spending by powerful industries and mega-donors, as well as how journalists can use campaign contribution data to better identify special interest influence for public awareness.
“One of the definitions I’ve seen change since starting to work on this film has been a super PAC, which has to disclose their donors, and a dark money group, which does not… there used to be a pretty bright line between those,” Reed says. “But since I started working on the film in 2012, it’s pretty standard operating procedure for campaigns to associate themselves with both a super PAC and a dark money group so that you can bounce money back and forth between the two organizations, which has the effect of laundering and anonymizing that money so you don’t know where it’s coming from… so you can’t even say super PAC money is always disclosed.”
Every election cycle
Adams remembers when the effects of outside spending began appearing in Montana mailboxes and in state house corridors. “[Dark money] first appeared on my radar shortly after I started working at the Great Falls Tribune in 2008, when a Republican legislature candidate who had been defeated in his primary by a somewhat unknown candidate came into my office and put a stack of postcards on my desk and tried to explain to me that there was something different happening… There seemed to be a coordinated campaign against particular Republicans, the deeper I dug I couldn’t figure out where this money was coming from… it turned out to be the National Right To Work Committee, didn’t have to do with the extractive industry at all. It was a group that wanted to do away with labor unions in Montana. Every legislative cycle, these issues just kept cropping up.” …
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2016 Presidential Vote Totals
Hillary Clinton: 65+ million
Donald Trump: 62+ million
Those who chose not to vote: 100 million.