••• The International Writers Magazine: Book Review
The Hidden History of the Billionaires
Behind The Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer
Large Print Edition 765 pages
$30 US/ $39 Can
*UK Paperback £7.99
Jane Mayer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, is the co-author of Landslide: the Unmaking of the President, 1984-1988 and Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas. She is the author of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. She has won many prizes for her writing and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Recently the New York Public Library named Dark Money as one of the ten best non-fiction books of the year. She spent five years conducting exhaustive interviews, searching public records, private papers and court documents following the well-hidden trail of the billions of dollars spent by the ultra-rich to change the ways Americans thought and voted. Some of her sources refused to be named for fear of reprisals and she, herself, was followed and closely investigated while researching this book. No one would admit who was responsible.
For those interested in understanding Donald Trump’s recent election to the post of President, this book is essential. People like Betsy DeVos, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Dick Cheney are involved in the secretive networks which Mayer uncovers. The prominence of Rex Tillerson’s ExxonMobil is also referred to. Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power by Steve Coll describes ExxonMobil’s business in Russia. There is no doubt, as one reads Dark Money, that this movement was behind Trump’s win. It is scary and hard to believe the measures which the Koch brothers and their friends take in order to gain political power in an attempt to avoid regulation and taxation.
The story begins way back in the 50’s when Fred Koch, the father of four brothers, two of whom, Charles and David, became known as “the Koch brothers”, used the enormous wealth he gained from Koch Enterprises to begin to influence the political system in the US. Koch Enterprises gained much of its early good fortune because of Fred’s willingness to work with Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.
When Fred died in 1967, Charles and David bought out their brothers and owned what became the second largest company in America. They owned four thousand miles of pipelines, oil refineries in Alaska, Texas and Minnesota, the Georgia-Pacific lumber and paper company, coal and chemicals, and they were huge traders in commodity futures, among other businesses. The company made the two brothers the sixth and seventh wealthiest men in the world. Each was estimated to be worth $14 billion in 2009.
Charles Koch seemed, on the surface, to be simply an ideologue dedicated to the American – Libertarian dream. But when you consider that Koch Industries was the number one producer of toxic waste in the USA in 2012 and that one defense of a company it owned in Texas was that producing smog with their air pollution saved many from skin cancer, you are forced to look a little deeper. The anti-regulation and taxation philosophy behind Koch’s “freedom” rhetoric always ends up producing a financial gain for him at the expense, in most cases, of others.
The most shocking revelations, which Mayer documents scrupulously, are the secretive, duplicitous, intentionally false lengths to which the Koch brothers and their supporters go. The Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case in 2010 was meant to allow citizens to see for themselves whether their political leaders were receiving funds from various corporations. Instead, it did just the opposite. By ruling that any amount of money could be contributed to outside groups who were supporting or opposing political candidates, it overturned a century of restrictions banning corporations and unions from spending all they wanted to elect candidates. The court held that corporations had the same rights as individuals and that as long as the money was given to groups who were technically independent of the campaigns, anyone could give any amount. This opened the doors for Koch’s billionaire friends (some of whom were original members of the John Birch Society) to finance candidates and contribute any amount to fighting their opponents. As Jeffrey Toobin, a lawyer and New Yorker writer put it, “it gave rich people more or less free rein to spend as much as they want in support of their favored candidates.”
The movement of the mega rich led by Charles and David Koch, “exercised their power from the shadows, meeting in secret, hiding their money trails, and paying others to front for them.” They didn’t want only to win elections. They wanted to change the way Americans thought. They did it by anonymously funding think tanks, university departments, Pacs and Superpacs and other “philanthropic” foundations.
Jane Mayer has written a fascinating book about a largely unknown movement in the USA which is responsible for Donald Trump’s victory and the state of America today.
© Stevellie Wheeler March 6th 2017