by Jane Mayer
The great Jane Mayer, who wrote Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, and The Dark Side, about the abuses that occurred during our "war on terror," has written another timely and gripping book of America and politics. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Radical Right is about as nail-biting as any work of political espionage. It is a much needed expose of Charles and David Koch, who have been on a path to control politics and government since 1970, as well as a not-too-long list of the wealthiest few with the most power.
On that list, in a chapter on gaining control of the states, is Art Pope, who has engineered the demise of North Carolina through large donations to private and anonymous -- and untaxed non-profit -- organizations, which he controls. Here I am in South Carolina well awash in right wingnuts with an anti-tax, pro-gun, anti-EPA, anti-Obamacare, anti-education agenda, and as I read about the gutting of North Carolina by Art Pope, my heart was breaking.
The "Kochtopus" as Mayer says this multi-layered secretive organization has been called, may have been incubating for a few decades, but it came into full flower with the first semi-annual donors' conference a week after the inauguration of Barack Obama in January, 2009. It is this event that begins the book, because it was the election of an African American Democratic president that spurred these corporate giants to join forces to do everything in their power to, as the popular saying goes, "Take back the country."
In fact, when Donald Trump and Sarah Palin talk about taking back the country, the fans in the audience are unlikely to realize the true meaning. It is in fact the goal of the Kochs to take the country back from anyone who believes that the government belongs to the people, and not just the wealthy. Their fight has been, from the beginning, a fight against paying taxes, against environmental and worker safety regulation, against anything or anyone who would get in the way of profit.
Their means evolve over time, as Mayer describes in well-documented detail. You may have heard that the Kochs are generous philanthropists, giving to The Kennedy Center, National Public Radio, The Smithsonian, and a mind-blowing number of educational institutes. And all that generosity is not for nothing.
The Kochs have managed to fund programs in secondary schools as well as universities to influence and develop libertarian courses throughout the country, including our own College of Charleston, where, according to the Center for Public Integrity:
At the College of Charleston, the Charles Koch Foundation sought names and email addresses of any student participating in a Koch-sponsored class, and to be notified in advance of media outreach related to the school.
Textbooks in courses influenced by Koch generosity describe the New Deal as a failure and free market philosophies as the true path to success. The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, opened in 2010, promotes the position that humans will be better off by adapting to climate change rather than fighting it; for example, we might "build 'underground cities' and develop 'short, compact bodies' or 'curved spines' so that 'moving around in tight spaces will be no problem.' "
With plenty of aforethought and great stealth, in 2011, before census results had been released, the plan to take over the country through redistricting began to be implemented. In North Carolina, public meetings were held and public testimony obtained but ignored. When the state supreme court was about to hear the suit claiming the maps violated the Voting Rights Act, outside cash wisely spent during the 2012 judicial race kept the court conservative, and in line.
After the 2012 election, the Kochs and their icky partners decided that the republican party could not be trusted to take the country back, so they redoubled their funding and their plans. We may chuckle about how the republican party continues to try to rewrite their agenda to effect voters' feelings about them without changing their pro-corporate power anti-everything-else agenda. But it has worked.
It worked dramatically in North Carolina, in states like Wisconsin and Kansas. It worked to turn Congress not just red but Tea Party red. And it has been courting and winning over our justices for decades. They won't stop until they also can cut a notch into their belts for the presidency.
All those fear mongering right-wing ads that are carpet-bombing our state are being brought to us by the Kochtopus. It is no surprise Marco Rubio has moved up in the polls, because there is a lot of dark money betting on that horse. And it may be that nobody likes Ted Cruz, but he toes the Koch party line, and in return they will keep him well fed. Follow the money. As Mayer documents, most of it goes back to the Kochs.
I could go on. This is a nearly 400 page book, and I wish there were an additional 400 pages. It is horrifying, and it is hard to walk away from. As it should be.
The Charleston County Public Library in an all-too-rare flash of wisdom, has purchased eight copies in hardback, as well as audio and eBook format. I hope you will give this really important book a read.