Dark Money

I wrote this on Facebook in July 2016, but have decided to repost it here during the shenanigans attending Trump's presidency.

New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer’s painstaking analysis of the immense Dark Money streams funding rightwing Republican politics would be incredible if it were not so meticulously researched and presented in her ground-breaking book Dark Money (Scribe 2016). She claims that ultra-libertarian donors forum organised by Charles and David Koch (say Coke) holds a pot worth $889 MILLION ready to dump attack ads all over Hillary Clinton, once the presidential election kicks off in earnest. This paragraph gives a flavour of it.
'While amassing one of the most lucrative fortunes in the world, The Kochs had also created an ideological assembly line justifying it. Now they had added a powerful political machine to protect it. They had hired a top-level operatives, financed their own voter databank, commissioned state-of-the-art polling, and created a fundraising operation that enlisted hundreds of other wealthy Americans to help pay for it. They had also forged a coalition of some 17 allied conservative groups with niche constituencies who would mask their centralised source of funding and carry their message. To mobilise Latino voters, they formed a group called the Libre Initiative. To reach conservative women, they funded concerned Women for America. For millennials they formed Generation Opportunity. To cover up fingerprints on television attack ads, they hid behind the American Future Fund and other front groups. Their networks' money also flowed to gun groups, retirees, veterans, anti-labour groups, anti-tax groups, evangelical Christian groups, and even $4.5 million to something called the Centre for Shared Services, which coordinated administrative tasks such as office space rentals and paperwork for the others. Americans for Prosperity, meanwhile organised chapters all across the country. The Kochs had established what was in effect their own private political party.’ p313
‘On its own, in 2012 the Koch network of a few hundred individuals spent at least $407 million, almost all of it anonymously. This was more than John McCain spent on his entire 2008 presidential bid. And it was more than the combined contributions to the two presidential campaigns made by 5,667,658 Americans, whose donations were legally capped at $5000. Politico’s Kenneth Vogel crunched the numbers and discovered that in the presidential race the top 0.04% of donors contributed about the same amount as the bottom 68%.’ p314
The irony, not lost on Mayer, is that while to the civilised world Trump seems to be the epitome of a rightwing racist Republican demagogue tailor-made for delivering the American proletariat trussed and bound for corporate use he is in reality the Kochs’ worst nightmare. In the first place he is rich enough not to have needed to kowtow to them – so far – but far more to the point is his appeal to the white blue-collar voter rests on a jobs and protectionism which is THE most serious threat to the Kochs’ neo-con game plan of unfettered free markets. THEIR man was the sly Texas conservative Cruz with his carefully-manufactured right-wing talking points designed to bamboozle the ‘moral majority’ into electing him in order to execute his paymasters’ bidding. Bizarrely, the Clintons’ record of negotiating free trade agreements puts Hillary closer to the Koch camp than Trump.
Mayer explains that Koch Industries have been serial polluters over decades from their oil, coal, pipeline and logging activities. And that a significant part of their agenda has been to neutralise the US Environmental Protection Agency, under the rubric of shrinking government, and to weaken or minimise all forms of state controls and bureaucracy throu catspaws like the Tea Party. They are also fervent climate-change deniers, and have forced all candidates such as Mitt Romney seeking their funding to reverse their public stances on these and other issues dear to them. Apart from creating a range of think-tanks to peddle neo-con values, one of the network’s greatest successes was the corruption of academic debate by endowing faculties on hand-picked universities with dedicated programs promoting free-market values, such as 'The Centre on poverty, work and opportunity' within the University of North Carolina School of Law, and the 'James Madison program in American ideals and institutions' at Princeton University.
However the supreme bete noire to billionaire neo-con has been Barack Obama himself. He represents everything they hate: he is black: he is charismatic: he is a community builder; and most unforgivably, he is an able politician whom the majority of American supported. Having tried all the dirty tricks in the arsenal to stop him at both elections they decided that the game would be humiliation, and in consequence the Republican leadership in consultation with their paymasters chose to withdraw all cooperation - including such bizarre episodes as witholding budget approval leading to the Government shutdown of 2013, the outright opposition to the Affordable Healthcare Act, and many other stunts. The range of dirty tricks employed at state level defies both belief and enumeration, notably in N Carolina - where '
'With a final tally all $7 billion in traceable spending on the presidential and congressional campaigns, it was the most expensive election in American history by far. One donor alone, Sheldon Adelson, who had a vowed to spend “as much as it takes," had dumped nearly $150 millions, $92 million of which was disclosed, and had still come up short. Approximately $15 million of that had reportedly gone to the Kochs’ group, Americans for Prosperity. All in all, super PACs and independent groups that could take unlimited contributions had spent a staggering $2.5 billion and, it seemed, Change nothing Obama would remain in the White House, and the Democrats would continue to dominate the Senate, and Republicans would continue to control the House.’ p331.
'Black voters, meanwhile, held steady, casting an overwhelming 93% of their votes for Obama. The America that the conservative donors were counting on was out of touch with the reality.’ p330
At a seminar for conservative donors one of the strategists, President of a front organisation called the American Enterprise Institute: 'explained why conservatives had lost: only a third of the public agreed with the statement that Republicans "care about people like you." Further, only 38% believed that they cared about the poor.’ p355
‘The Kochs’ extensive research has shown that what the American “customer" wanted from politics, alas, was quite different from their business-dominated free-market orthodoxy. It wasn't just that Americans were interested in opportunity for the many, rather than just for themselves. It also turns out, Fink acknowledged, that they wanted a clean environment and health and high standards of living, as well as political and religious freedom and peace and security.
‘These objectives would seem to present a problem for a program led by ultrarich industrialists who have almost single-handedly stymied environmentalists' efforts to protect the planet from climate change. The extraordinary measures that the Kochs and their allies had taken to sabotage the country's first program offering affordable healthcare to millions of uninsured citizens might also seem to be problematic.
‘These political problems would seem to have been compounded by new statistics showing that the top 1% of earners had captured 93% of the income gains in the first year of recovery after recession.’ p359
So what was the Kochs’ answer? Another astroturf campaign headed by a ‘philanthropic’ front organisation to persuade the US public that life was fairer under Republicans! To accomplish this they made a $25 million donation to the United Negro College Fund in order to ‘increase well-being and help people improve their lives.’ And Wake Forest University, that already had a Koch-funded Center for the Study of Capitalism, was also to get a “well-being center.”
So it goes on. Every year, every day, policy wonks funded by the Koch’s network of donors are systematically coming up with strategies to deceive voters as to the true intentions of the Republican high command. 'The idea of sugar-coating anti-government free-market aetiology as a nonpartisan movement to enhance the quality of life had clear advantages.’ p363. ‘The Kochs were also directing millions of dollars into online education, and into teaching high school students, so a non-profit that Charles devised called that Young Entrepreneurs Academy. The financially pressed Topeka School system, for instance, signed an agreement with the organisation which taught students that, among other things, Franklin Roosevelt didn't alleviate the Depression, minimum wage laws and public assistance hurt the poor, lower pay for women was not discriminatory, and the government, rather than the business, caused the 2008 recession.’ p365
If I've whetted your appetite, go buy the book - and the scales will fall from your eyes as you realise how Dark Money has been systematically corrupting the public discourse in America, and to a considerable extent in Britain too, for 30 years. It’s unlikely to be accidental that Andrea Leadsom, the would-be Conservative leader, had accepted an expenses-paid invitation from ‘a conservative group of Christians’ to visit America – which she was unable to accept owing to the leadership election. But it tells you where her heart is, and why the big money backers recognised her as their candidate of choice.

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