Dark Money is about the public monitoring and exposure of one of the formidable challenges to democracy today: the menacing creep of corporate influence in government. It is a project about money in politics, lobbyists and enfeebled regulators, political donations, multinational tax avoidance, monopolies, rising inequality and the digital media revolution. As the stentorian voice of the business lobby decries social welfare and worker protections, it is also about the rise of corporate welfare.
From the United States and Europe to Australia and the wider Asia Pacific region, there is stasis in policy reform. The mighty clash of corporate interests frustrates rational and fair-minded policy-making at every turn. Grand plans of new political leadership are whittled away to nothing. Indeed, policy is increasingly outsourced to consultants, often to the Big Four global accounting giants. They are too big to fail yet conflicted; preaching to government on the one hand, advising their multinational clients on the other.
The rise of dark money power begs public scrutiny. It requires public regulation and control of the world’s most powerful corporate institutions. That’s why the Sydney Democracy Network, in cooperation with michaelwest.com.au, is launching an intensive year-long series of seminars, workshops and public lectures at the University of Sydney, and a weekly column, Dark Money on The Conversation, all targeted at the threats to democracy posed by dark money, and how best to hold arbitrary corporate power to account.
It is an urgent task, especially at this time of digital upheaval. Mainstream media is cratering before our eyes, desperate, as its power recedes and its capacity to fund investigative journalism, even basic journalism, shrinks.
There is hope though. In its place, the democracy of social media has sprung up. It reveals corruption and enables civic movements to flourish. Dark money is the new battleground. It is no pitched battle. As befits the age, this new sphere of digital combat in support of corporate accountability is perpetually shifting, in shape and direction.
The Dark Money project joins this emerging revolution of expectations and actions. It aims to show that people are more powerful than their governments and corporations, but only if they mobilise collectively, to overcome the corrupting effects of dark money and the susceptibility of citizens and tiny media operators to legal threats and big-money campaigning by big business.
Dark Money is a collaborative partnership between Michael West, SDN and The Conversation.