“Dark Money” by Jane Mayer: The Hijacking of American Democracy!

Dark Money

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading Dark Money:  The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer, a staff writer for The New Yorker.   It is a carefully researched  telling of how a group of billionaires led by Charles and David Koch, have been using their financial might to garner public opinion and to sway local, state, and federal elected officials to their right-wing and in most cases, self-serving ideology.  There are long chapters on the Koch, Scaife, Bradley, Olin, and other families who have used their fortunes for extracting large-scale political influence. Mayer tells well the stories of think tanks, media operations, and pseudo foundations such as the American Enterprise Institute, The Heritage Foundation,  and the Cato Institute that are the vehicles used by dark money purveyors.  Here is an excerpt from the New York Times Book Review published on January 19, 2016.

“…at the end of that year [1980] two things happened. One, as we all know, was the election of Ronald Reagan as president. The other was an utterly private event whose significance would not be noticed for years. Charles and David Koch, the enormously rich proprietors of an oil company based in Kansas, decided that they would spend huge amounts of money to elect conservatives at all levels of American government. David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 1980, but when the campaign was over, he resolved never to seek public office again. That wouldn’t be necessary, he and his brother concluded; they could invest in the campaigns of others, and essentially buy their way to political power.

Thirty years later, the midterm elections of 2010 ushered in the political system that the Kochs had spent so many years plotting to bring about. After the voting that year, Republicans dominated state legislatures; they controlled a clear majority of the governorships; they had taken one chamber of Congress and were on their way to winning the other. Perhaps most important, a good many of the Republicans who had won these offices were not middle-of-the-road pragmatists. They were antigovernment libertarians of the Kochs’ own political stripe. The brothers had spent or raised hundreds of millions of dollars to create majorities in their image. They had succeeded. And not merely at the polls: They had helped to finance and organize an interlocking network of think tanks, academic programs and news media outlets that far exceeded anything the liberal opposition could put together.

It is this conservative ascendancy that Jane Mayer chronicles in “Dark Money.” The book is written in straightforward and largely unemotional prose, but it reads as if conceived in quiet anger. Mayer believes that the Koch brothers and a small number of allied plutocrats have essentially hijacked American democracy, using their money not just to compete with their political adversaries, but to drown them out.”

Here is a frightening quote from the last chapter.

“It’s extraordinary.  No one else has done anything like it.”  said Rob Stein, the Democratic activist…It takes an enormous amount of money, and many years, to do what the Kochs have done.  They are deeply passionate.  They’re disciplined, and they are ruthless.”

This is important reading in 2016 as we try to follow what is happening during this presidential election year especially in the Republican Party.  It provides insight into the forces that are supporting and attacking candidates.



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