Dark Money
“Dark Money” unearths political influence. COURTESY MONTCLAIR FILM

Dark Money
Sunday, April 29, 7 p.m.
Clairidge Cinemas, 486 Bloomfield Ave.
Q&A with director Kimberly Reed to follow screening.
This film is in NJ Competition.

For Montclair Local

“Dark Money,” a documentary directed by Kimberly Reed, follows the secret path of campaign money in political campaigns since the famous Citizens United Supreme Court ruling in 2010 which gave corporations “privacy rights,” which effectively means anonymity, in political expenditures.

The film uses the arc of a suspense story, with the real folks of Montana as protagonists.

“A lot of people may have a sense of dismay or confusion when it comes to understanding campaign finance” in the wake of the 2010 ruling, Reed said. “So, we made a kind of spy thriller to draw people’s attention, and hid a campaign finance primer in that. The idea is to educate people about how the shell game works.”

Reed, who lives in Newark, is a Montana native. Though Montana is a solidly “red” (Republican) state, Reed says the state serves well as a microcosm for what has been going on nationally .Montanans in the film come across as patriotic, plain-spoken people, traditionally conservative perhaps, but as ready as any teenage Parkland shooting survivor to “call B.S.” when their voting rights are violated. At a public meeting, one citizen tells a politician, “You’re as a full of s*** as a Christmas goose.”

Reed describes the mammoth, sparsely populated state as being like “one small town with really long streets.” and says her film crew did not have to twist any arms to get interviews with people of all persuasions. But the effects of the “dark money” spent by private interests are exposed and examined by a diverse cast of public citizens.

John Adams, an investigative reporter with a quintessentially American byline, is the truth sleuth at the heart of the documentary.  After Adams is downsized from his daily newspaper job, he operates out of his truck with his black Labrador riding shotgun, is a scrappy warrior for freedom of information in his home state.

Reed said she was personally delighted to document Reed’s digging. “A free press is so crucial in every place, every community,” she told The Local. “I see a parallel in our film with the way The Montclair Local was created to keep a spotlight on local news. I was in the first wave of subscribers to your paper.”

Other characters in her film include:

• John Ward, a former Republican state representative, and owner of a Port-a-Potty business. Ward, a self-described conservative, was driven from office in the wake of leaf-letting by mysterious groups such as one calling itself “Mothers Against Child Predators,” alleging he was soft on crime.

• Art Wittich, the former Montana Senate majority leader, and the lawyer for a dark money group battling to quash Montana’s state laws requiring disclosure that is known as American Tradition Partnership.

• Gene  Jarussi, a trial  lawyer who comes out  of  retirement  to  prosecute  Wittich  for  alleged  campaign  finance  violations.  In Watergate investigation style, he spends thousands  of  hours  meticulously  poring  over  documents to untangle the  mystery  of  how  dark  money  flows  through  Montana.

• Ed  Bender, executive director of the National  Institute  of  Money  in  State  Politics, who helps citizens track and resist the effects of Citizens United through the website, FollowTheMoney.org.

“The  role  money  plays  in  our  politics  has  never  been  more  crucial. Or timely,” Reed writes in her notes on the film. “Dark  money contributions  increased  a  stunning  60-fold  in  2012  (the  first  election  after  Citizens  United)  and  spending  for  the  2018  campaigns  has  already  far  outpaced  that  of  2016. I  am  excited  our  film  is  being  released  in  the  midst  of  the  2018  election  cycle.“