If you, like most Americans, believe you’re being screwed by the U.S. political system, and would like to know exactly how the screwing functions, tune into “Dark Money,” a new documentary premiering Monday, October 1 on PBS. The film, directed by Kimberly Reed, is one of the most expert dissections ever conducted of the subterranean tentacles quietly strangling U.S. democracy. (“Dark Money” was co-funded by Topic Studios, which is part of First Look Media, along with The Intercept.)
The movie is largely about the last decade of politics in Montana. This long-term, close-to-the-ground focus is cinematically unique, and makes it possible for “Dark Money” to illuminate three startling facts about how America now works.
First, the corporate hard-right is systematically investing in politics at an incredibly granular level, down to state and local races.
Second, they’re not just trying to crush Democrats. Leaked documents examined in the movie show conspirators discussing a plan to “purge” all Republicans who don’t share their worldview — an ideology so conservative that it hasn’t been seen in full flower in the U.S. for 100 years. In fact, the politicians who appear in the film are largely Republicans who’ve been successfully targeted for the right-wing purge, who speak wistfully about Montana’s evaporating history as a small-d democracy.
Third, dark money, while just one tributary of the Mississippi of cash flowing through the U.S. political system, is a key tool of the corporate right. It gets its name from the fact that certain kinds of nonprofit corporations — unlike political campaigns and even Super PACs — currently do not have to disclose their donors.
Big, out-of-state money therefore can flood into small races in the last weeks before an election with total anonymity, paying for the sleaziest ads and mailers imaginable, produced by organizations created solely for that purpose. For instance, as the film depicts, three days before the 2008 GOP primary, a group calling itself Mothers Against Child Predators sent out bulk mailings suggesting that John Ward, an incumbent Republican state representative, was a secret admirer of the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, simply because he opposed the death penalty. Ward then was defeated by a little-known, more conservative challenger. Mothers Against Child Predators, having served its purpose, vanished, with Montanans having no idea who was behind it.
This secrecy serves the corporate right both coming and going: Voters can’t judge whether big, out-of-state interests are behind ads, and corporate funders won’t suffer brand damage when they back smear campaigns or push extreme candidates…
While politicians and mainstream media outlets obsess over President Trump’s recent press conference with Russian President Putin, the United State Treasury quietly announced that it will no longer force “dark-money” groups or certain tax-exempt organizations to disclose their financial donors.
As the Mueller investigation proceeds, stories about Russian meddling in the 2016 election have often been at the top of the news cycle. It is indeed a scary story. It shows how undisclosed powerful actors, guided entirely by self-interest, can use duplicitous online ads to try and sway an election. Those making these ads can customize their audiences by using frighteningly specific tools to target certain demographics. This enables them to microtarget users, thanks in large part to Facebook’s mountain of data. Between microtargeting and Facebook’s algorithms (which are proprietary and not well understood), no two people see the same digital ads.
After nearly six years of stalling by the federal authority that oversees elections, a government ethics watchdog has filed a "historic" lawsuit against a right-wing nonprofit aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, alleging that the group has violated campaign finance laws and should be required to register as a political committee, which would mean disclosing its deep-pocketed donors.
Wanhua Chemical, a $10 billion chemical company controlled by the Chinese government, now has an avenue to influence American elections. On Monday, Wanhua joined the American Chemistry Council, a lobby organization for chemical manufacturers that is unusually aggressive in intervening in U.S. politics.
The USA has moved up in the Tax Justice Network's Financial Secrecy Index to number two, behind Switzerland; in reality, though, the UK is the world's worst money-laundry, but because its laundering activities are spread out over its overseas territories -- taken as a whole, the UK leads the world in helping criminals and looters hide their fortunes.
During her last news conference in December, Janet Yellen stood firm on her record stating, “The global economy is doing well. We’re in a synchronized expansion. This is the first time in many years that we’ve seen this.” While attempting to lock in her record, Yellen urged, “There’s less to lose sleep about now than has been true for quite some time.” Well, a lot of people lost sleep these past few days. And they might lose more sleep in the days to come.
For the last 40 years, most people believed the stock market always goes up. Simply buy and hold long enough, the theory went, and you could sit back and watch the money accumulate in your account. No thought or hard work needed.
A state ballot measure seeking to end political corruption has won the ire of the billionaire Koch Brothers, who have relied on secret donations to conservative interest groups to influence elections coast to coast.
The results are already in, even before the official campaign-finance final figures will become available after the election. Though a large percentage of the people funding the campaign advertising will never be made public - due to recent Supreme Court decisions allowing “dark money” - data already exist on the final product of the campaigns (including both the above-board and the dark money), which is the booked advertising time for each of the two candidates at the start of their campaigns. (Similar proportions of donations go also to get-out-the-vote and other campaign-activities; so, these booked-advertising figures correlate rather well with across-the-board funding of the two campaigns.)
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