Dark Money and the Deep Anti-State (book review)

What is Dark Money?

At age twenty I was employed by a business that I was pretty sure was owned by the Philadelphia Italian-Jewish mob. Five years later, as a temp agency worker, I witnessed my boss passing an envelope full of cash to a police detective to secure a contract with the City of Oakland, California police department

Were these dark money payments? I would say “No”.  These were illegal money transactions simply known as ‘money laundering’ and ‘bribery’. Dark money is something more – way more!

Dark money refers to money that wealthy billionaires and large corporations have been secretly funneling through charitable foundations and other nonprofits in order to support right-wing political policies via think tanks, political front groups, politicians, academics, and others who seek to radically change the very nature of our government. 

Sometimes dark money is used illegally, but often it is money legally spent in a non-transparent way so that others cannot see what is being bought.

The Book, Dark Money

Written in 2016 by Jane Mayer, an American journalist, and published by Doubleday, this book’s subtitle is The Hidden History of the Billionaires of the Radical Right.

The Preface to the book names and briefly describes several billionaires who attended a summit outside Palm Springs, California held by the Koch brothers in 2009. All of these men shared the libertarian anti-government, anti-tax, and free market philosophy of the Koch brothers. They gathered together there to pledge to fight the Obama administrations policies.

Part One: Weaponizing Philanthropy: The War of Ideas, 1970-2008 consists of five chapters describing how these would-be American oligarchs planned to secretly undermine their political opponents in order to grow even wealthier by shrinking governments (federal, state, and local) in order to lower taxes on themselves and their companies.

Mayer writes that a BBC filmmaker tells a story about Anthony Fisher, University of Chicago student who read a Reader’s Digest version of The Road to Serfdom, a book written by Freidrich Hayek. Hayek was a well-known Austrian economist who taught at the University in the mid-1900s. Fisher asked Hayek about “going into politics.”Hayek, a free-market economics advocate, warned Fisher that “going into politics” was futile.

Hayek said politicians were “prisoners of conventional wisdom.” The student would have to “change politicians’ minds” if he wanted to promote conservative ideas of economics. To do that, Hayek suggested “disingenuous” PR campaigns and starting “scholarly institutes” as better alternatives.

That student, Anthony Fisher, went on to found around 150 free-market think tanks here and abroad.

Paul Weyrich, a student at the Madison, Wisconsin campus who co-founded the forerunner of the Heritage Foundation (the think tank that has advised Congressional Republicans for decades, and now, President Trump for his choice of Supreme Court Justices) also decided to change politicians’ minds.

Using dark money from foundations owned by wealthy libertarians, Paul Weyrich founded and funded ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council in 1973, a group still in existence today

ALEC ‘s goal was to target Republican politicians in every state in the union to buy their allegiance to libertarian anti-tax, anti-government and free market views they believed in. Weyrich ran out of funding in 1983 but as we’ll show in a future post about the 2018 movie Dark Money, the goals of ALEC became an integral part of right-wing libertarians’ crusade.

Part Two : Secret Sponsors: Covert Operations, 2009-2010

In 2009 the Koch’s private summit meeting of billionaires kicked off a number of different strategies.

The Koch’s and other wealthy libertarians began in earnest to fund think tanks, front groups and use other means to secretly fight for their values. To expand their crusade they started the Tea Party.

They also opposed climate change scientists in every way they could while seeking to dismantle the EPA.

Finally, the Kochs and other wealthy libertarians successfully covered much of their secret political lobbying by getting Citizen’s United passed into law by the Supreme Court, using an argment that corporations were people and therefore corporate money was entitled to free speech protection.

In the spring of 2010 however, passage of Obamacare severely set back their agenda. The 2010 mid-term elections gave Republicans the control of Congress.

Part Three: Privatizing Politics: Total Combat, 2011-2014

These were the years that the libertarians attacked the Obama administration as Obama tried to carry on with his second term.

In my opinion, it is because the wealthy right-wing billionaires Mayer talks about pushed the libertarian agenda forward in so many different ways over the second half of the last century while ‘staying under the radar’—it is no wonder why we are where we are right now.

The passage of Citizen’s United Act in 2010 enabled the Kochs and others to seed Congress and state legislatures with Republicans who would support, or at least not interfere with their small government, anti-regulation, anti-taxation of the rich, and free market (i.e. privatization of government services) agendas.These agendas severely conflict with government services that the majority of Americans want to see in our country.

Friedrich Hayek was spot on when he suggested secrecy was the only way libertarians could come to power. But oddly enough, Hayek himself proposed some methods this transition could take place in a more humane way.

It was Hayek who seems to have first proposed the government grant all Americans a guaranteed income. A scholar at the Cato Institute (a think tank founded by Charles Koch back in 1974) wrote an article and initiated discussion recently about just such a guaranteed minimum income, something most right-wing conservatives would scoff at, calling it ‘welfare’.

It seems odd too that this year, the Koch brothers have fallen out of favor with some things that President Trump is doing. But this too seems predictable looking back.

By the end of my series on The Deep Anti-state and its Dark Money, I think you’ll see much more clearly how we have wound up where we now are, and perhaps how to change things. Please watch for more posts here on Brucenomcs about The Deep Anti-State and its Dark Money.


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