Book review: Dark Money

Dark Money
By Jane Mayer
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN: 978-0-7352-1033-2
Review copy provided by reviewer

Review by KM Warner

By now it’s well known that Charles and David Koch have been very busy in distributing substantial amounts of money in support of right wing causes. What wasn’t well known before the publication of Jane Mayer’s meticulously researched book Dark Money The Hidden Agenda of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right was that they and similarly minded economic libertarians have been embarked on a forty-year effort to remake the American economic, political and cultural system in their own image through the strategic establishment of tax-deductible philanthropic organizations that are little more than fronts for the funders’ business interests.

Mayer describes this far reaching effort as the Kochtopus, a multi-faceted interrelated entity that is involved in everything from establishing Super PACs to funding educational institutes at prestigious American universities that churn out position papers and experts that “assist” Congress in making legislative decisions that further the funders’ business interests. These are but a few of the organizations Mayer tracked: George Mason University; Federalist Society; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; The Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, Ohio State University, Cato Institute; American Legislative Exchange Institute, Americans for Prosperity Foundation; Ayn Rand Institute; and Northwestern University School of Law. Mayer points out quite a circle of life for such “philanthropic” organizations: form them; fund them; get a tax write-off for one’s donation and reap the benefits of favorable laws resulting from the organizations’ efforts.

Mayer makes the argument that the ability of the Kochtopus to reach so far into American life was facilitated by characterizing any government effort to level the economic and political paying field as an assault on American values and religious beliefs. Counseling people on end of life care became death panels. Requiring businesses to serve gay couples became an attack on marriage. Highlighting cultural issues became a smoke screen for establishing the reach of a few over the many. Mayer’s book is a testament to the importance of good investigative reporting and in knowing whose interests “experts” are serving.