Review — Dark Money
I originally heard about this book from an Anand Giridharadas lecture, and thought I’d give it a go. It recounts the personal history of the Koch family and the like as well as their influence on US politics. A small group of extremely wealthy uhh let’s say entrepreneurs has a well documented history of sowing the seeds of political disinformation, polarization, and general rage that plagues the US to this day.
I’ve been hearing about the Koch bogeyman my whole life and wanted to know how much is really true. It would be a mistake to attribute the entire US libertarian propaganda networks to them especially since the FEE was started when they were children. That being said it would be an equal mistake to pretend their influence didn’t exist.
Dark Money started out as possibly the funniest book I’ve ever read. To be fair, I don’t read many funny books. Hitchhiker’s Guide is the only one I can think of. Anyways the dissonance between the professional presentation of information and the sheer absurdity of the content made it a great combination. In the interest of professionalism I had to delete the word “yikes” like 12 times.
The problem is it stopped being funny around chapter two. The fact of the matter is that the greed and legitimate mental illness of this very small group of people had real life (and death) effects an incalculable amount of people.
I recommend the book on its merits, but honestly it’s a somewhat long and depressing history. In hindsight, I wish I could just read a decent free summary. It was a truly depressing read. I literally returned it to the library after two chapters. Unfortunately, I‘m not good at just abandoning stuff, so I eventually made myself finish it. All in all, if you aren’t intrinsically motivated to read it, don’t. If you love brain damage, then you’ll probably read it regardless of what I say.
Since this “Summary” is about a half hour read I’ll offer a somewhat more abridged version. Read the Introduction, Chapters 1–3, 8, & 11–14. You’ll get the gist.
“We must make our choice. We may have democracy or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” -Louis Brandeis
Once upon a time two brothers named Charles and David Koch decided to advance their conservative libertarian politics. They pushed their views from the fringe to the center of political life.
“Our movement must destroy the prevalent statist paradigm.” — Charles Koch 1978
They subsidized networks of think tanks and academic programs, and spawned advocacy groups hired lobbyists etc. William F. Buckley called their ideas anarcho-totalitarian.
A coalition of defense contractors oil barons etc. spent billions in “philanthropy” in the quest to abandon the post world war 2 consensus that an activist government was a force for public good. Their goals were limited government, lower taxes, lower social services, less regulation of industry particularly environmentally. They said they were driven by principle but weirdly their ideology seemed to exactly match the needs of their portfolios.
“Continuing economic collapse had laid waste not just to some conservatives portfolios but also to their belief system. The notion that markets are infallible, a fundamental tenet of libertarian conservatism looked like a folly. Free market advocates saw their entire ideological movement in peril.”
Charles Koch sent a frantic newsletter to his company’s 70,000 employees claiming America faced the greatest loss of liberty and prosperity since the 1930s (black president). His message was markets must save us from the recession not big government.
Clement Stone triggered outrage for giving 2 million dollars to Nixon’s campaign and led to electoral reform. In 2016 the Kochs political war chest would be nearly 900 million dollars. No problem.
The corrosive effect of economic inequality on democracy has been erased from the public conscience. Those who try to write it back in are considered naive radicals.
“Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth.” -Joseph Stiglitz
Kochs are more collectors and coordinators than just donors. Meetings were kept as secretive as possible. Attendants were warned to destroy material handed out, and keep out recording devices. Leaks were not tolerated.
“A society that puts freedom first will, as a happy byproduct end up with both greater freedom and greater equality.” -Milton Friedman
“We are on the road not just to a highly unequal society, but to a society of an oligarchy, a society of inherited wealth… when you have a few people who are so wealthy that they can effectively buy the political system, the political system is going to tend to serve their interests.” -Paul Krugman
Rich pick and choose when to pay taxes. Poor do not have this luxury. Oil and gas companies hate the government more than anyone despite their dependence on subsidies, access to public lands etc.
Chapter 1: Radicals: A Koch Family History
The Koch family owes their fortune to Hitler and Stalin, although to be fair doing business Stalin was a moral dilemma, which Fred later regretted.
He was a fan of the German, Italian, and Japanese “work ethic” of the 1930s. Now that sounds pretty bad in hindsight, but in his defense none of this is exactly unique among the US business elite at the time.
Koch Brothers were raised by strict German nurse. She made them shit at the same time every morning and read them horrifying German fairy tales. She later quit because she didn’t want to miss history being made in Nazi Germany.
Mom was afraid of dad (Fred) who was an absentee, but instilled a work ethic via beatings.
“The colored man looms large in the communist plan to take over America.” -Fred Koch
Believed welfare was a plot to attract coloreds to cities to foment a race war. Communists would infiltrate the highest offices in the US. FBI described his rhetoric as “utterly absurd.” After smearing JFK as a communist he later tried to blame the JFK assassination on communists.
Told a group of Kansas Women’s Republicans club that if they were afraid of being controversial “You won’t be very controversial lying in a ditch with a bullet in your brain.” Eventually pivoted from anticommunist conspiracy theories to right wing libertarian economics.
Fred saw taxes as “incipient socialism” and would go on extended rants at the dinner table. He set up a charitable lead trust to avoid inheritance taxes. Sons would have to donate interest to charity for 20 years. Tax avoidance was the original source of Koch philanthropy.
After securing a loss to LBJ he advocated a ticket of racial segregation and the abolition of income tax.
Founder of the John Birch Society, Robert Welch, was a board member of FEE which spread libertarian economics so extreme it bordered on anarchism. These were the theories that captured Charles Koch, living like a hermit studying far right economics and Social Darwinism. He credited the “Freedom School” for his passionate commitment to liberty.
Freedom School: A tiny world of people who thought The New Deal was a horrible mistake. Chanted in response to Roosevelts “Annihilate them”
- Robber barons were heroes.
- Gilded age was the golden era of the United States.
- FDR and LBJ were socialists.
- Taxes are theft.
- Weak and poor should be taken care of by charity.
- The south should have been allowed to secede, because slavery is not as bad as military conscription.
- Humans should be allowed to sell themselves into slavery if they wished.
- Against big government interference like, medicare, anti poverty programs, and integration.
No black students attended the Freedom School since some of the students were segregationists. When Illinois teachers visited and were so shocked that they notified FBI and admonished school for advocating no government, no police, no fire dept. no public school, no health, zoning or national defense. Reduce Bill of Rights to just, Right to property.
Founder Robert LeFevre struggled with bankruptcy and an “infatuation with a 14 year old girl” later led a drive to purge girl scouts of communists. Besides Lefevre the only other faculty member was renowned holocaust denier, James J Martin. (Appointed as History Director) School fell apart due to mismanagement.
Friedrich Hayek: Reader’s Digest article is the source of American mythology surrounding him. Hayek touted free market as not just an economic model, but the key to all human freedom. Vilified government as coercive. Self interest benefits all.
“The conservative publication omitted Hayek’s politically inconvenient support for a minimum standard of living for the poor, environmental and workplace safety regulations and price controls to prevent monopolies from taking undue profits.”
Still not as radical as US free market advocates claim.
There is no incompatibility in principle between the state’s providing greater security in this way and the preservation of individual freedom. — Hayek
Frederick Koch: was somewhat cool. Became a playwright collector of antiques, and historical manors. Brothers tried to blackmail him out of his shares for being gay. The brothers were not a monolith. This was far from the only conflict that arose due to disagreements over their inheritance & companies.
David almost died in a plane crash in which all other first class passengers died. Claims to have been saved by god.
Charles had little interest in generic free market organizations. “He was driven by some deeper urge to smash the one thing left in the world that could discipline him, the government.” (This echoes Chomsky’s critique of US Libertarianism. “Unlike the private tyrannies, the institutions of state power and authority offer to the despised public an opportunity to play some role, however limited in managing their own affairs. That defect is intolerable to the masters”)
Charles criticized the libertarian fixation on ideas. “Ideas do not spread by themselves, they spread only through people, which means we need a movement.”
Charles “was not going to be satisfied with being the Engels or even the Marx of the libertarian revolution. He wanted to be the Lenin.” — Clayton Coppin
Charles focused on the youth funneling millions into educational indoctrination, even through video games. (Libertarian ideology good, women and minority representation bad.)
Leonard Liggio used the Nazis as a model for organizing youth. “Like the Nazis, he suggested, libertarians should organize, university students create group identity.”
Also funded private institutes to exist within universities. Donors could exert control more directly.
“It would be necessary to use ambiguous and misleading names, obscure the true agenda, and conceal the means of control.” -Clayton Coppin
Koch in 1980 became the VP so he could legally donate to himself without limit. Ticket slogan was hilariously “The libertarian party has only one source of funds, you”
Party platform was basically ripped from the curriculum of the Freedom school. Abolish income, corporate, & capital gains tax, minimum wage, and child labor laws, all workplace and environmental regulation, the FDA, abolish public schools. Usual stuff.
Received 1% of the vote likely based on anti war and pro drug/prostitution legalization. Charles decided democracy was for suckers. Focus shifted to academia and think tanks.
Contributed hundreds of millions with the help of their class allies to ostensibly independent organizations to advance the same ideas which had been dead for decades. Anti Statist anti redistribution etc. Nixon called himself a Keynesian. This couldn’t stand.
Chapter 2: The Hidden Hand: Richard Mellon Scaife
Before income tax, the tax code was largely regressive. Taxes were high on alcohol tobacco, urban property, large estates were taxed less. A century long effort has been waged to wrap anti tax views in public spirit rationales.
Inequality is good. It is the reward for justice and virtue. The idea of cutting taxes on the rich and increasing government revenues was originally from Andrew Mellon Scaife. 1921 capital gains taxes cut, 1926 cut taxes for the rich both of which preceded increased speculation, inequality and a crash.
His alcoholic failson Richard Mellon Scaife felt proud to be an inheritor of wealth. Felt mildly victimized by poorer kids who had to ration gas as Scaife was chauffeured in limos. Flunked out of Yale due to skipping class, but later graduated from Pittsburgh before getting a job in the family business.
In the case of the Scaifes as well as the Kochs in order to protect themselves from taxes they would donate to their own philanthropic foundations, which would be kept under their control and could be used to spread their ideology. Scaife is a source for the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
Philanthropic foundations of private plutocrats were once regarded with enormous suspicion, aggregations of unelected and unaccountable plutocratic power. They were widely considered an antidemocratic menace to society. Started with Rockefeller.
“No amount of charity in spending such fortunes can compensate in anyway for the misconduct in acquiring them.” — Theodore Roosevelt.
When tobacco companies weren’t allowed to state a counter narrative to the “Cigarrettes are unhealthy” idea they decried their lack free speech.
Hayek spawned the idea of the ideological think tank. The best way to reshape the world is to start a scholarly institute to wage a battle of ideas. Would require some disguised motives. Smedley took his advice and started started the Institute of Economic Affairs. Smedley wrote that it was “imperative that we should give no indication in our literature, that we are working to educate the public along certain lines which might be interpreted as having a political bias.” Later founded the cartoonishly evil sounding Manhattan Institute, which launched the careers of George Gilder, and Charles Murray.
In order to come off as less biased, conservative organizations accused accused Brookings and the NYT as equally biased but on the left. We need a market of ideas. Brookings and NYT immediately hired conservatives to ranks of influence. Instead of having some sincere and some insincere think tanks we now had some insincere and some capitulating to the insincere.
Objectivity was abandoned for supposed neutrality.
Conservative think tanks reintroduced doubt to settled areas of academia, undermined unbiased experts, and gave politicians conflicting talking points to create a 2 sides to every story culture.
Scaife financed a private investigation of Bill Clinton’s infidelities in the 1990s called Arkansas Project and published them in a American Spectator which he also owned. Also basically started a Seth Rich type conspiracy theory about Vincent Foster who had committed suicide. Demonstrates the impact that a single wealthy extremist can have on national affairs.
“Presidents might surround themselves with Secret Service agents and phalanxes of lawyers and operatives, but Scaife proved how hard it was to defend against unlimited, untraceable spending by an opponent hiding behind nonprofit front groups.”
Ed Crane was gifted Cato by Charles Koch, running a puppet regime. The Cato institute espoused Koch ideology to the media who quoted them as scholarly unbiased experts. Kochs depicted Cato as nonpartisan.
Moral majority with Jerry Falwell brought social and religious conservatives into the coalition by capitalizing on white anger over desegregation. Results came to fruition in 1980. Reagan distributed Heritage “Mandate for Leadership” to every member of congress and got to work.
- Slashed corporate and individual tax rates.
- Top income tax went from 70–28%.
- Taxes on bottom 80% of earners rose.
- Economic controls on oil and gas from Nixon were abolished.
- Cut taxes on oil products.
Chapter 3: Beachheads: John M. Olin and the Bradley Brothers
“Movement Philanthropy” John M Olin bankrolled free market ideology on US college campuses to the tune of almost 200 million.
Despite Olin’s outdoors-y reputation Olin foundation was knowingly dumping over 20 pounds of Mercury into Niagara River per day. Mercury pollution leads to major birth defects.
When Olin shut down its plant WSJ lamented the loss of this company town at the hands of big government and hysterical activists. Saltville drinking water is still poisoned decades later.
“It matters little to me whether the economic development is classified as Marxism, Keynesianism, or whatnot.” — Olin
Started using courts to skirt the democratic side of regulation battle.
Olin foundation was also used to launder money for the CIA funding of anticommunist thinkers. Continued funding after the CIA was forced to stop.
Olin Foundation tried to fund low status schools who were open to their influence but soon set their sites on the ivy league to gain more relevance. Don’t think of it as changing the curriculum, present it as offering a new perspective. Olin foundation in its existence founded 11 Harvard groups proving money talks in academia as much as in media.
“Law & Economics” was considered his proudest achievement. Sneaking conservative constitutional law into Ivy League Curriculum was no small feat. Went from insurgency to hegemony. Also founded the Federalist Society which has become ubiquitous in DC legal circles.
Charles Murray at 39 was an unknown academic. Applied for a job at the Heritage foundation. His anti welfare piece for the WSJ led to a grant from the Olin Foundation to write “Losing Ground” which blamed government programs for a culture of dependence among the poor. Despite its critics it shifted debate from the shortcomings of society to the shortcomings of the poor. Rutger Bregman is leading the charge to turn back the clock.
Still, it was not Reagan, but Bill Clinton who took these ideas to their logical conclusion in the 1996 welfare reform bill. It took 10 years to go from controversial to conventional wisdom.
Murray also wrote the Bell Curve which correlated Race and IQ scores to explain how blacks were less likely than whites to reach the cognitive elite. (To be fair the main goal was austerity; racism was just a bonus/tool.)
Dartmouth Review became incubator for right wing figures like Dinesh D’Souza and Laura Ingraham. Most renowned for mocking student fast to protest global hunger, destroying anti apartheid demonstrations, and outing gay students without their consent.
Its Vassar counterpart excreted Marc Thiessen most known for defending Bush’s torture programs, and equating AOC with Sarah Palin… Also calling Trump the most honest president in history… My paper gets his columns sometimes… I can’t look away.
Harry Bradley hosted Welch of the John Birch society and also Dr. Frederich Schwarz, an ex jewish convert to christianity who maligned Karl Marx as a vile slovenly jew who had a superior but malicious intellect like most jews.
Bradley was also a supporter of the Manion forum which asserted that social spending in America was a Russian plot to bankrupt the country. Ironically got his money from US spending on military.
The Bradley Foundation gives out cash prizes like an Academy Awards for Conservatives.
“Almost all of the recipients had played major roles in tugging the American political debate to the right. And almost all had been supported over the years by a tiny constellation of private foundations filled with tax-deductible gifts from a handful of wealthy reactionaries whose identities and stories very few Americans knew, but whose ‘overarching purpose’ as Joyce said ‘was to use philanthropy to support a war of ideas’”.
Chapter 4: The Koch Method: Free-Market Mayhem
Koch’s distaste for regulation is not just a nebulous principle. His own workers have died due to company skirting of regulations. Donald Carlson was one such victim. His widow said “Those regulations are for safety. It’s not to make your workers rich, it’s so they don’t die.”
“Libertarianism is supposed to be all about principles, but what it’s really about is political expedience. It’s basically a corporate front, masked as a philosophy.” — Thomas Frank
Koch industries has a history of exceeding regulations by obscene amounts and silencing whistleblowers. Even hired a fake FBI agent to threaten a potential whistleblower. Spied on investigators and witnesses, stealing garbage, asking ex spouses for dirt, smearing them in the media, even having senators denounce them.
“Most people back off rather than tangling with them… these people have amassed an amazing amount of unaccountable power.”
“It’s very intimidating… You have a company with lots of money. They’ve got more money than many small countries do.”
Like Illegal Wall Street activity, fines just set the price of crime.
Chapter 5: The Kochtopus: Free-Market Machine
“David Koch likened the brothers’ multipronged political strategy to that of venture capitalists with diversified portfolios. ‘My overall concept is to minimize the role of government and to maximize the role of the private economy and to maximize personal freedoms’ he told the National Journal ‘By supporting all these different non profit organizations, I am trying to support different approaches to achieve those objectives’”
Koch Seminars viewed as a slush fund of other people’s money for his own control.
George Mason University became the home for Austrian Economics naming it the Mercatus Center. Entirely funded from outside donations but located on a university campus. Claimed goal was to bridge the gap between academia and the real world.
Institute for Humane Studies in the same building as Mercatus Center. Founder was a freedom school trustee considered “taxes theft welfare immoral and labor unions slavery.” Also opposed court ordered remedies to segregation. Aim was to cultivate the next generation of libertarians.
“To the dismay of some faculty members applicants essays had to be run through computers in order to count the number of times they mentioned the free-market icons, Ayn Rand, and Milton Friedman. Students were tested at the beginning and the end of each week for ideological improvement.”
“It’s ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington.” — Rob Stein
“George Mason is a public university and receives public funds. Virginia is hosting an institution that the Kochs practically control.” —Stein
Mercatus is a lobbying shop dressed up as a nonprofit.
“You take corporate money and give it to a neutral sounding think tank, which hires people with pedigrees and academic degrees who put out credible seeming studies, but they all coincide perfectly with the economic interests of their funders.” Thomas McGarity, University of Texas
“Koch’s foundation gave additional funds to Brown to support faculty research and post doctoral candidates in such topics such as why bank deregulation is good for the poor.”
Koch’s foundation argues their grants bring “Ideological diversity, and debate to campuses… but in the eyes of critics the Kochs have not so much enriched as corrupted academia, sponsoring courses that would otherwise fail to meet the standards of legitimate scholarship.”
“Entire academic areas at universities can be bought just like politicians. The difference is that universities are supposed to permit open dialogue and exchange of ideas, and not be places for the indoctrination of innocent students with dictated propaganda prescribed by outside special interests.” — John David, an Economics Professor at West Virginia University Tech who witnessed the school’s transformation first hand.
Next step was to sell it to the masses.
Chapter 6: Boots on the Ground
Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) Founded by Koch, but later funded by companies like Exxon and Microsoft before mobilizing support for their agendas.
1993 successfully thwarted Clinton’s energy tax that would have targeted fossil fuels.
“CSE’s ads were deeply misleading, focusing on owners of car washes and other mom and pop small businesses implying that the tax was aimed at the middle class when in fact it would affect only the wealthiest 4%.”
CSE later split due to internal disagreements.
“While the Kochs loved liberty as an abstraction, they were very controlling, very top down.”
Americans for Prosperity Foundation came out of it.
Part 2 Chapter 7: Tea Time
The culmination of this decades long endeavor culminated in the ultimate failure of the Obama administration. (Mayer has a higher opinion of Obama than me.)
Koch infrastructure tried to shift blame from bankers and traders to FDR, Hoover, both of whom were dangerous liberals. This is also when he sent out notorious newsletter to his 70,000 employees.
Also smeared the stimulus as a giveaway to democratic districts.
Conventional wisdom was that the Republicans were in danger, and they’d have to work with Obama to survive. Instead they did the opposite and benefitted at the midterms. Earned the nickname “Party of No”
Obama with his bipartisanship fetish offered a meeting with Republicans only to show his watered down pre-negotiated arbitrarily small stimulus a third of which came in the form of tax cuts instead of government spending. (They had already decided to vote against it.)
The stimulus which was academically considered necessary was portrayed as extremist by the Koch infrastructure. This was one of the contributions to the birth of the Tea Party movement.
“It’s a major accomplishment for sponsors like the Kochs that they’ve turned corporate self interest into a movement among people on the streets.” — Thomas Frank
Ted Cruz was one beneficiary entering the political discourse saying “the most radical president ever to occupy the oval office.” His secret agenda would have the government dominating our lives. “Victory or Death”
In a time that demanded a populist movement, the left was nowhere to be seen. We’ve forgotten in the age of Trump but the Obama = Hitler meme and comparing taxpayers to slaves really happened and was not exactly limited in scope. For a more detailed autopsy I also summarized Pity the Billionaire by Thomas Frank.
David Koch said Obama was “African” in his outlook. Even the NYT considered Obama to be outside the American mainstream genuinely asking him if he was a socialist. Obamacare as it was termed in the right wing media was considered a threat to any new medical treatment.
“I can assure you that Obamacare did not diminish our research efforts in any way. However, the sequestration efforts of the right wing conservatives and their Tea Party colleagues have hampered progress in medical research.” — Donald Jacobsen Cleveland Clinic
Frank Luntz The best way to turn people against the Obama plan was to call it a government takeover despite it being a Heritage Foundation plan to stave off single payer/national healthcare.
“Americans for Prosperity meanwhile threw itself headlong into the fight, spinning off a group called Patients United Now, which according to Tim Phillips organized more than 300 ralies against the Healthcare legislation. At one rally an effigy of a democratic congressman was hanged. At another, protestors unfurled a banner depicting corpses from Dakau, implying that Obama’s healthcare plan was akin to the Nazis state ordered murders.”
Chapter 8: The Fossils
Obama ostensibly took climate change seriously, but failed to accomplish much of anything. Hard to challenge as Michael Mann put it “the most powerful industry that has ever existed on the face of the earth. There’s no depth to which they’re unwilling to sink to challenge anything threatening their interests.”
“If there was a single ultra wealthy interest group that hoped to see Obama fail as he took office, it was the fossil fuel industry. And if there was one test of its members concentrated financial power over the machinery of american democracy, it was the minority's ability to stave off government action on climate change as science and the rest of the world were moving in the opposite direction.”
2005–2008 Kochs poured over 20 million into fighting climate reform, tripling Exxon’s effort.
Donors Trust was the dark money ATM of the conservative movement. Allows donors to remain anonymous. Distributed over 700 million to conservative causes. As criticism of moneyed fossil fuel interests increased around 2007 tens of millions disappeared from the public fight as equal amounts started to come from Donors Trust.
Fossil Fuel followed the same playbook as “Hill and Knowlton” made for the tobacco companies in the 1960s. “Doubt is our product.”
This is something I’ve noticed as well. Don’t bother convincing anyone, just muddy the water enough to prevent any meaningful mass consensus. Plus saying “Who knows?” sounds more neutral and intellectual than “There’s a global conspiracy of greedy scientists making a fortune in the lucrative industry of climate academia.”
In the early 2000s environmental regulations were popular among Americans. In 2002 conservatives hired Frank Luntz who said in a leaked memo that we must not raise economic concerns first. Key is to question the science. Attack the source of the claims first and foremost.
Koch organizations took his advice to heart. “The Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank that Charles Koch founded, put out a steady stream of reports like Apocalypse Not: Science, Economics, and Environmentalism and Climate of Fear: Why We Shouldn’t Worry About Global Warming.”
Kochs successfully projected their economic fears of government action on climate change onto American masses.
Tea party groups capitalized. Americans for Prosperity funded Carbon Cops who “pranced into tea party rallies pretending to be overreaching emissaries from the EPA, warning that backyard barbecues, churches and lawnmowers were about to be shut down because of new stricter interpretations of the clean air act. The advocacy group also launched what it called the Cost of Hot Air Tour to mock the cap-and-trade proposal. It featured a seventy-foot-tall bright red hot air balloon on whose side was emblazoned a slogan reducing the cap-and-trade proposal to six scary words. Cap and Trade it said means ‘higher taxes, lost jobs, less freedom.’”
“It’s not about saving the planet… It’s not about anything folks other than raising taxes and redistributing wealth.” — Rush Limbaugh.
Glen Beck said it would lead to water rationing. Town halls were packed with protestors and hecklers.
The Heritage Foundation predicted economic collapse. The CBO predicted it would cost about a postage stamp a day for most people.
“Higher CO2 levels than we have today would help the Earth’s ecosystems.” Ad sponsored by “CO2 is Green.” an organization whose founder, Leighton Steward, was given credibility and invited on a panel at my University in my junior year. (Don’t worry though he was surely kept in check by his co panelists from Shell and the AEI.) I might have to write a post on that sometime. It was legitimately one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life.
Climategate: hacked emails from climate scientists were released to smear their credibility despite having no bearing on the results of their work.
“Inquiries exonerated the climate scientists Finding nothing in the emails to discredit their work or the larger consensus on global warming.”
Still the hacked emails “spurred a witch hunt.” All of this vitriol has the ultimate effect of threatening existing climate scientists (some of which hired personal security) and deterring future climate scientists.
Percentage of Americans who believed in global warming reduced, and more people thought it was overblown.
“Gridlock is the greatest friend a global warming skeptic has, because that’s all you really want.”
Chapter 9: Money Is Speech: The Long Road to Citizens United
Citizens United Court found no donation limits as long as there is no coordination with candidates campaigns. Led to rise in Superpacs.
“It gave rich people more or less free reign to spend as much as they want in support of their favorite candidates.” — Jeffrey Toobin
Could in theory prevent corruption by allowing people to see who donates to who, but in reality more and more money was being spent by secret nonprofits with donor anonymity.
“In reality, soft money given to political parties is nothing more than money that is not yet regulated by the federal government. And contrary to what you hear, it is all publicly reported for everyone to see. It is hard-earned American dollars that Big Brother has yet to find a way to control. That is all it is, nothing more…
I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican party. Occasionally a wayward reporter will try to make the charge that we are giving this money to get something in return, or that we must be purchasing influence in some way…
I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues.
We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections.” — Betsy DeVos
Anyone who is concerned about a lack of democracy is anti free speech. Phenomenon is not limited to conservative billionaires, although Koch fundraising soared.
“By flashing a bright green light the supreme court sent a message to the wealthy and their political operatives, that when it came to raising and spending money they now could act with impunity, both the legal fog, and political stigma lifted.”
“Citizens United decision shifted the balance of power from parties built on broad consensus to individuals who were wealthy and zealous enough to spend millions of dollars from their own funds. By definition this empowered a tiny atypical minority of the population.”
Chapter 10: The Shellacking: Dark Money’s Midterm Debut, 2010
Scott Brown was the first encouraging sign for the efficacy of money in politics. Depriving the Democrats of a 60th Senate vote electrified the right wing donor class in the middle of the Obamacare debate.
2006 2% of outside political spending came from social welfare groups with anonymous donors. In 2010 it was 40%.
The result was that to the unschooled eye “a rash of spontaneous attacks on democrats appeared to be breaking out all across the country. In reality the effort was so centrally coordinated as one participant put it ‘there wasn’t one race in which there were multiple groups airing ads at the same time.’”
The Obama administration was largely unaware of the vast pool of money that existed solely to sabotage his agenda (to the extent that there was such a thing.) until it was too late. Administration complained it was hard to explain the complicated situation in concise soundbites. The result was the largest turnover in decades. Democrats were particularly wiped out in state legislatures. “Republicans now had 4x as many districts to gerrymander as democrats.”
Chapter 11: The Spoils: Plundering Congress
30 years of dismissal as extremist the Koch ideas were now governing the centers of power across the country. Their electoral success brought increased scrutiny and criticism which seemed to legitimately baffle them.
“They somehow thought that they could run tens of millions of dollars in ads, but fly under the radar screen… they weren’t nearly as prepared as they should have been.”
Jane Mayer goes into some detail about how her own experience following an article she wrote in 2010. She later discovered it enraged the Kochs, who were unable to make any specific substantive criticism, but went on to either investigate/smear Mayer or allow their existing network to do so.
The Daily Caller sought to smear her as a plagiarist. Mayer with some foresight had public statements from reporters she cited dismissing the allegations ready to go before the article was published. The Daily Caller was forced to retract the story. Editor Tucker Carlson claimed no knowledge as to the origin of the piece.
Economic Libertarians generally venerate the role of private charity Charles Koch being an exception. “Charles Koch however, favored neither taxes nor charity as he explained in a speech in 1999 ‘I agree with the 12th century philosopher Maimonides, who defined the highest form of charity as dispensing with charity altogether, by enabling your fellow humans to have the wherewithal to earn their own living.’” A stupid thing to believe even if it wasn’t a gross misreading. Left out of Koch’s interpretation is the idea that “He who averts his eyes from the obligation of charity is regarded as a villain.”
“Glen Beck and Sarah Palin are the center of the Republican Party.” — Obama 2010
Stiglitz noted the 2008 crash was like the Fall of the Berlin Wall for Free Market fundamentalists. Somehow the blame was shifted from not enough regulation, to too much regulation, an objective spearheaded by AEI.
Mayer goes on to discuss the ways the Republicans used their well funded megaphones to unfairly control the economic narrative as well as how the Obama administration continued to do the football thing from Charlie Brown. You probably already have the gist. If not, read any Krugman column on Paul Ryan.
Chapter 12: Mother of All Wars: The 2012 Setback
Scott Walker blamed the state’s deficits on the greedy overindulged teachers, at the same time his largest donor paid zero dollars in state income tax. Also famously fell for prank phone call from a fake Koch.
2012 election was the first presidential election in the Citizens United era. “Outside spending groups might well have outspent the campaigns and the political parties for the first time.” Starkest example of Brandeis quote so far.
Effect of cash was noticeable on Mitt Romney who went from a moderate to a denier on climate presenting the false dichotomy of economic security and climate action.
His tax policy would save those in the 1% around $264,000 per year and the poorest 20% $78. End inheritance taxes etc. All in all it would add $5 trillion to the deficit in 10 years, which would be dealt with by closing unspecified loopholes.
Romney also selected Paul Ryan as VP despite his unpopularity providing evidence that “An invisible wealth primary was shaping the discourse and the field long before the rest of the country had the chance to vote.” Guided Democracy.
Romney lost due to being comically out of touch with anyone who made less than 7 figures. He may have had more success as a moderate but who knows. His leaked comments implying 47% of the country were lazy moochers gave the Obama campaign its biggest boost, although the economic elite were happy to hear someone who represented them running for the highest office in the country. Some thought it was time for a solution to the government dependency. Mayer notes the income tax was never designed to target the poor.
“Republicans have finally found a group they want to tax, poor people.” — David Weigel
Obama was able to attack him for his history at Bain Capital much to the dismay of his own party’s donor class. The contradictions of the democratic party that were planted by Clinton were getting hard to ignore. The ads that so infuriated Wall Street also happened to be the ads that were the most effective. Thinking emoji…
Obama who was outspoken against Citizens United and SuperPacs eventually bowed to the pressure of showing up to a gunfight with a spoon.
Spoiler alert: Obama won. Karl Rove had a meltdown on FOX having basically gambled a hundred million dollars in donor money and lost. It was the most expensive election ever, and the losing side was unhappy to realize they wouldn’t get a return on investment. Romney had trouble coping, even calling John McCain for advice. McCain told him to go back to work, but Romney was unemployed.
Still the larger point is it was a different world now. The discourse was defined by the 1% of the 1%. (More than it was before.)
Chapter 13: The States: Gaining Ground
“Gerrymandering was a bipartisan game as old as the Republic. What made it different after citizens united was that the business of manipulating politics from the ground up was now heavily directed and funded by the unelected rich.”
Goes into some detail of how Republican state legislatures using North Carolina as a case study. They suppressed votes, raised taxes on the poor, cut them for the rich, cut unemployment and used their own budget deficit to justify privatization of public schools. Teachers pay went from 21st to 46th in the nation. (All against the desires of the local population.)
As the Koch network cut budgets he offered to privately fund subjects he favored. (Western Civilization & Free Market Economics)
Defund education and then privately fund it with strings attached. North Carolina Senate passed a bill requiring NC HS students to study conservative principles as part of American History in order to graduate. I recall Oklahoma did something similar with its oil companies influencing curriculum.
Suicide Caucus, so dubbed by Charles Krauthammer was a very small minority of congressmen made up of extremely monolithic (white) districts. Yet due to the newly invigorated donor class they wielded enormous power.
“Political extremists now had no incentive to compromise, even with their own parties leadership. To the contrary, the only threats faced by Republican members from the new ultraconservative districts were primary challenges from even more conservative candidates.”
John Boehner was frequently “overrun” by his supposedly inferior party members.
Chapter 14: Selling the New Koch: A Better Battle
At this point they sought a rebrand. “the Koch network needed to reframe the way that it described its political goal.” Basically free markets lead to well being, government leads to fascism/totalitarianism. Later Mayer references the time Charles Koch quoted Democratic Socialist, MLK Jr.
“His reasoning went like this: Government programs caused dependency, which in turn caused psychological depression. Historically, he argued, this led to totalitarianism. The minimum wage, he said, provided a good example. It denied the ‘opportunity for earned success’ to 500,000 Americans who, he estimated, would be willing to work for less than the federal minimum standard of $7.25 per hour. Without jobs, ‘they’ve lost their meaning in life,’ said Fink. This, he warned, had been ‘a very big part of the recruitment in Germany during the 20s.’ Thus, he argued to an audience that included many of the country’s billionaires, minimum wage laws could be described as leading to the kinds of conditions that caused ‘the rise and fall of the Third Reich.’
Freedom fighters, as Fink labeled the donors, needed to explain to American voters that their opposition to programs for the poor did not stem from greed, and their opposition to the minimum wage wasn’t based on a desire for cheap labor. Rather, as their new talking points would portray it, unfettered free-market capitalism was simply the best path to human ‘well-being.’”
Charles Koch had expressed similar sentiments in a recent interview with the Wichita Business Journal. In it, he said, ‘The poor, okay, you have welfare, but you’ve condemned them to a lifetime of dependency and hopelessness.’ Like Obama, he said, ‘We want hope and change. But we want people to have the hope that they can advance on their own merits, rather than the hope that somebody gives them something.’ In the same interview, Koch described, without any self-consciousness, how he had recently promoted his son, Chase, to the presidency of Koch Fertilizer and how at every step, he’s done it on his own.”
“By 2014 the various Koch foundations alone were funding pro-corporate programs at 283 four-year colleges and universities.”
At Florida State University students complained Koch influence was “nefarious and omnipresent.” “We learned that Keynes was bad, the free market was better, that sweatshop labor wasn’t so bad, and that the hands-off regulations in China were better than those in the US.” (Pretty sure I learned most of those things too, but they generally didn’t stick.)
Textbook was co-written by Russell Sobel renowned for his argument that safety regulations hurt coal miners. Textbook also stated that climate change “wasn’t caused by humans and isn’t a big issue.” Kochs defended their influence under the guise of “‘fresh’ College thinking.”
(In the interest of ideological diversity we should teach some things that are true and some things that are not. )
In the cash strapped Topeka School System students were taught that FDR “didn’t alleviate the depression, minimum wage laws hurt the poor, lower pay for women was not discriminatory, and the government rather than business caused the Great Depression.”
In the 2014 elections the RNC echoed a complaint from the CSE that while the Kochs love liberty in the abstract, they are very controlling with operations associated with them. Still the results were positive rendering Obama a lame duck.
Mitch McConnell was very appreciative of the Kochs saying “I don’t know where we would be without you.” before launching an all out assault on the EPA.
The Koch’s successfully changed the Overton window over the decades. They indeed destroyed “the prevalent statist paradigm” mentioned in the introduction.
“Addressing global warming was out of the question. Although economic inequality had reached record levels, raising taxes on the runaway rich and closing special loopholes that only advantaged them were also nonstarters.
Funding basic public services like the repair of America’s crumbling infrastructure was also seemingly beyond reach. A majority of the public supported an expansion of the social safety net. But leaders in both parties nevertheless embraced austerity measures popular with the affluent. Even though Americans overwhelmingly opposed cuts in Social Security, for instance, the Beltway consensus was that to save the program, it needed to be shrunk.”
“Despite their predictions that Obama would prove catastrophic to the American economy Charles’s and David’s personal fortunes had nearly tripled during his presidency.”
“We have two unelected multibillionaires who want to control the US government and exercise the power to decide what is best for more than 300 million American people without the voices of these people being heard.” — Fred Wertheimer (Pretty sure it’s more than just two.)
“I just want my fair share, which is all of it.” — Charles Koch
It seems this amount of influence concentrated in so few hands is antidemocratic both in theory and in practice. On the other hand maybe this whole book is Ad Hominem. Liberals destroyed.