Even though I knew Jane Mayer’s DARK MONEY (subtitled The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right) would be impeccably written and assiduously fact-checked (she writes for The New Yorker, and they are known for their that), I avoided this book for several months because I expected it would depress me. I knew generally what it was about—how the Koch brothers, two conservative multibillionaires, have spent millions to infiltrate the Republican Party and reshape our democracy—and the thought of reading their story filled me with dread.
I finally took the plunge a few weeks ago. I considered it part of my civic duty.
If you want to be an informed citizen, no matter which way you might lean politically, you really should read this book. Having a vague sense of what the Koch brothers and their ultra-rich cronies have been up to is not enough. You need to read the fine print. You need to know what has happened to our political infrastructure and how they have donated millions not just to political campaigns on the state and local level but also to think tanks, nonprofits, and universities to advance their political agenda.
They have outmaneuvered the Republican Party and essentially built their own political party. For decades, they have outspent millions of Americans to achieve their desired political outcomes. For example, Mayer notes, “the 100 biggest known donors in 2014 spent nearly as much money on behalf of their candidates as the 4.75 million people who contributed $200 or less.” Those 100 donors gave $323 million. Let that sink in. Mayer adds, “And this was only the disclosed money.” Her book explains in detail how they exploited the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, circumvented laws governing charitable organizations, and tapped into various other mechanisms to extend their reach and influence political power on every level in ways that are largely hidden to the general public.
We might think we all have a voice in this country, but how can we compete with what seems to be an oligarchy?
I guess the only correct answer is this: We have to. I don’t know what it will take. But I do know that the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging that it exists. Reading this book seems like a good place to start.