ScOOPS! ~ Dark Money

Have you ever read a book and said to yourself, “This book should be required reading for all Americans who are old enough to vote”?  That’s how I felt when I recently finished Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.  While many among us—like me!—are watching in horror as important advances in reproductive rights and a host of other issues are being eroded before our eyes, and looking to our current government asking, almost rhetorically, “what happened?” and “what is happening?” this book serves as a reminder that those are not rhetorical questions.  They’re real questions and she provides insightful, well-researched answers.

She had my attention right from the introduction, where she pointed out that the contributions to Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 campaigns, which scandalized the nation and led to the post-Watergate campaign finance reforms, were $2 million. Now, in the post-Citizens United era, the Koch brothers and their inner circle accumulated around $889 million for the 2016 election.  And in the 2014 midterm elections, the Koch network poured over $100 million into competitive House and Senate races and almost twice that much into other kinds of activism.

As scandalizing as the dollar amounts sound, it’s people who vote, and she carefully traces how a lot of that money was spent to deceptively ‘package’ ideas to appeal to voters in swing districts.

She often uses storytelling as a way to keep readers engaged and keep statistics from sounding dry and boring.  The book reads almost like a novel, despite the fact that it is packed with vital information.  She shares stories about some of the main donors, shedding light on their motives and their methods.  It’s remarkable.  One story that stood out to me was about a large donor whose fortune was estimated at $2 billion.  His company had been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for over 170 violations, including some that could cause “death or serious physical harm” before an employee’s gruesome death, yet he continually fought OSHA.  So many of these 1% of the 1% believe that the government shouldn’t regulate things like worker safety, workers’ rights, clean air and water and they’ve meticulously crafted deceptive ways of ‘selling’ these messages to the very people they harm.  Mayer describes in detail their persistent and successful efforts to influence the youth, the colleges, the media, the voting system, and the judicial system to ‘get the government off our backs.’

It’s chilling and disheartening, yet I believe that knowledge is power, and the more the rest of us understand the motives and methods of this powerful enemy-of-the-greater good, the stronger we’ll be collectively.  I hope you’ll join me in spreading the word about the harm that dark money is doing to our great nation and the world.

But let’s also remember, people with vast sums of money aren’t all so self-serving.  Look at the way some with wealth DO use it for the greater good, like Bill and Melinda Gates.  Great wealth can accomplish great things.