“I am incensed,” says Kimberly Reed, “by the fact that a single rich person, working anonymously in an election, can outdo the will of thousands, millions of voters. I find it thoroughly un-democratic with a small ‘d’…. I can’t think of an issue right now that is more important, regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on politically.”
Reed is the director of Dark Money, a gripping and unsettling new documentary that dives into the murky waters of campaign finance following the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision, which popped the cork on limits for corporate political donations.
“There’s always been money in politics,” says Reed, well-known to the LGBTQ community for her 2008 autobiographical documentary Prodigal Sons, in which Reed, who is transgender, reunites after a decade with her brother. “There always will be money in politics. There will always be crooked politicians. We’re gonna find corruption in politics until the end of time. What I’m concerned with is a system that essentially legalizes that corruption and makes it so that any politician can be subject to part of this corrupt campaign finance system. We’ve legalized this bribery in a lot of ways.”
The film uses Montana as its proving ground, a state that has tackled campaign finance corruption head-on and made a modicum of progress. “You see glimmers of hope in Montana,” says Reed. “It’s maybe not a state that most people would think is going to be on the leading edge of campaign finance reform. But we saw a bipartisan coalition — a group of Republicans working with a Democratic governor — to pass some of the strongest campaign finance laws in the country. They saw that elections were not being run in a fair manner, and that they needed to repair them. I think that gives the other 49 states a glimmer of hope that campaign finance reform can happen on the state level.”
Still, Reed says troubling times are ahead. She brings up President Trump’s recent “behavior in Helsinki regarding Vladimir Putin,” noting that while the press was diving headfirst into the President’s questionable support of America’s Russian adversary, something quietly insidious was happening in another part of the government.
“That was the time chosen for Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury, to issue an IRS rule change that makes it even harder to follow dark money groups. It basically ensures that there will be absolutely no paper trail for law enforcement, for the IRS, for anyone, to investigate who’s behind some of those contributions. That becomes pretty frightening when you consider that foreign contributions into our elections have already been shown to have had an impact. How much of an impact? We don’t know yet. But just the fact that we can’t even tell whether the money being spent in our elections is foreign or not, I think, is pretty bracing.”
Dark Money is playing at Landmark’s West End Cinema, 2301 M St. NW. Call 202-534-1907 or visit LandmarkTheaters.com.