Review of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer
My political awakening occurred during the Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld administration. A lot of bad things happened on their watch. Then Barack Obama was elected President, and I really started paying attention. I saw enormous potential for positive change. At the same time, I became aware that not everyone agreed with my rosy outlook. There was a growing chorus of loud voices that opposed everything President Obama did. Then came the 2010 midterm elections, and the promise of significant change was shot down by an onslaught of Republican victories.
As for Donald Trump’s improbable rise, there was a confluence of events. First, there was Russia’s meddling in the election, as detailed in the Mueller report. Then there was the more targeted meddling by a company called Cambridge Analytics, as described in the documentary The Great American Hack. There was also the formation of FOX News headed by Roger Ailes. Lastly, and the one piece of the puzzle that has alluded me before reading Jane Mayer’s masterpiece, there was the influence of Dark Money.
So much money had gone into defeating Barack Obama in 2008, that when he won, the Dark Money groups were forced to try another strategy. That strategy involved an image makeover. Rather than portray themselves as the “money guys,’ they decided to repackage themselves as the fairness guys. They formed political action committees with safe sounding names like Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. They convinced many people, including the media, that they were a grassroots phenomenon representing millions of every-day citizens. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Before the 2010 midterms, large financial donors like the Kochs had to mask their donations through charitable organizations and other deceptive means. That all changed, however, when the Supreme Court ruled favorably in the Citizen’s United case, and the floodgates were opened wide. Large political donors no longer had to jump through hoops to hide their clandestine activities. They could do it out in the open with the blessings of the Supreme Court.
The new super PACs spent millions supporting candidates who would promote their agendas. Once in office, those same bought-and-paid-for legislators and governors used gerrymandering to keep out democratic opponents. Next, the newly elected Republicans set about carrying out a laundry list of conservative policy goals: undermine the ACA, lowering of corporate tax rates, maintaining or expanding tax loopholes that benefited the wealthy, gay rights, voting rights, abortion rights, immigration, environmental regulations, and labor.
Republicans adopted the theory that climate change was a hoax. They continue to ridicule anyone who claims otherwise. Yet the real hoax is how people like the Kochs promoted climate change denial because of the harm carbon taxes and environmental regulations would have on their bottom line.
The only way to fix the problem of Dark Money is campaign finance reform. Read this book. Vote for candidates who understand the problem. Overturn Citizens United. Our democracy depends on it.