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Arts & Culture

POV: Dark Money

John S. Adams silhouetted in the Montana Capitol building.
Dark Money, a PBS Distribution release
John S. Adams silhouetted in the Montana Capitol building.

Airs Monday, Aug. 24, 2020 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

The Haunting Truth of Corporate Spending in Politics Revealed

Your vote can be bought, but at what cost? “Dark Money” follows local Montana journalist John S. Adams, who is determined to uncover the truth about funding in his state’s elections.

The film gains insights over the course of three election cycles as it solves an increasingly complicated and blurred puzzle.

“Dark Money” traces Adams’ steps and sheds light on the grassroots movement to unveil the mysterious financing behind our elections.

This award-winning independent film offers numerous perspectives on dark money donations — the unlimited campaign contributions from undisclosed donors, individuals and corporations that have been allowed since the 2010 Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United.

“Dark money is the advertising where you don’t know who's paying for the ads,” said Llew Jones, a Montana state senator. “We’ve just simply got to hold these up and say, ‘Who is paying for this? What are they attempting to buy?’”

Protesters against dark money in Washington, D.C. (undated photo)
Courtesy of Dark Money, a PBS Distribution release
Protesters against dark money in Washington, D.C. (undated photo)

Filmmaker Kimberly Reed, whose family has lived in Montana for four generations, dives into these questions specifically as they pertain to the state.

“People in this state had a good sense of history about the excesses of capitalism, because that’s essentially what it is. It’s in your face here. You can’t really ignore that,” said Cheri Maclean, a Montana voter.

In Montana, many of the voices against dark money are Republican.

Debra Bonogofsky, a small business owner running for the Montana State House of Representatives on a campaign that promotes “fiscal responsibility” and small government, considers resisting dark money groups a matter of integrity: “If you don’t vote the way they want you to vote in the legislature, they will target you the next primary, even if you're a conservative Republican.”

John S. Adams, former capital bureau chief for the Great Falls Tribune and creator of the Montana Free Press, is the leading investigator featured in the film.

He noted that when campaigns can receive unlimited sums from anonymous donors, hidden from public scrutiny, the consequences are clear:

“Then it’s not the people controlling the government — it’s the government controlled by a corporation controlling the people, which is like super-crazy Big Brother, but it’s happening.”

The film draws parallels between the local influence of dark money in Montana and the effects of corporate political spending on a national scale.

“This film will keep you on the edge of your seat,” said Justine Nagan, executive producer/executive director of POV/American Documentary. “‘Dark Money’ gives you a glimpse into what many of the most powerful people and groups don’t want you to see. It also gives voice to the many pioneers on both sides of the aisle in the crusade against unlimited anonymous campaign contributions. In the run-up to yet another pivotal election season, this film is an important work examining some of the most crucial pillars of our democracy.”

Montana's State Capitol building at dawn.
Courtesy of Dark Money, a PBS Distribution release
Montana's State Capitol building at dawn.

WATCH ON YOUR SCHEDULE:

The film has its national broadcast and streaming in 2018, and is not currently available to stream on demand. The DVD is available for purchase at ShopPBS.org.

Full episodes of POV are available to view on demand for a limited time after broadcast.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION:

POV is on Facebook, Google +, and you can follow @povdocs on Twitter. #DarkMoneyFilmPBS

You can follow @MTFreePress on Twitter.

CREDITS:

Director: Kimberly Reed. Producers: Kimberly Reed, Katy Chevigny. Executive Producers: Michael Bloom, Adam Pincus, Nancy Stephens, Rick Rosenthal, David J. Cornfield, Linda A. Cornfield. Co-Executive Producer: Katy Drake Bettner. Cinematography by Kimberly Reed, Eric Phillips-Horst, Jay Arthur Sterrenberg. Editor: Jay Arthur Sterrenberg. Original score by Miriam Cutler. Executive Producers for POV: Justine Nagan and Chris White.

POV is American television’s longest-running documentary series now in its 31st season. The documentary is a co-production of American Documentary | POV and ITVS.