Synopses & Reviews
Why is America living in an age of profound
economic inequality? Why, despite the desperate need to address climate
change, have even modest environmental efforts been defeated again and
Why have protections for employees been decimated? Why do
hedge-fund billionaires pay a far lower tax rate than middle-class
The conventional answer is that a popular uprising
against “big government” led to the ascendancy of a broad-based
conservative movement. But as Jane Mayer shows in this powerful,
meticulously reported history, a network of exceedingly wealthy people
with extreme libertarian views bankrolled a systematic, step-by-step
plan to fundamentally alter the American political system.
The network has brought together some of the richest people on the
planet. Their core beliefs — that taxes are a form of tyranny; that
government oversight of business is an assault on freedom—are sincerely
held. But these beliefs also advance their personal and corporate
interests: Many of their companies have run afoul of federal pollution,
worker safety, securities, and tax laws.
The chief figures in
the network are Charles and David Koch, whose father made his fortune in
part by building oil refineries in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s
Germany. The patriarch later was a founding member of the John Birch
Society, whose politics were so radical it believed Dwight Eisenhower
was a communist. The brothers were schooled in a political philosophy
that asserted the only role of government is to provide security and to
enforce property rights.
When libertarian ideas proved
decidedly unpopular with voters, the Koch brothers and their allies
chose another path. If they pooled their vast resources, they could fund
an interlocking array of organizations that could work in tandem to
influence and ultimately control academic institutions, think tanks, the
courts, statehouses, Congress, and, they hoped, the presidency. Richard
Mellon Scaife, the mercurial heir to banking and oil fortunes, had the
brilliant insight that most of their political activities could be
written off as tax-deductible “philanthropy.”
organizations were given innocuous names such as Americans for
Prosperity. Funding sources were hidden whenever possible. This process
reached its apotheosis with the allegedly populist Tea Party movement,
abetted mightily by the Citizens United decision — a case conceived of by legal advocates funded by the network.
The political operatives the network employs are disciplined,
smart, and at times ruthless. Mayer documents instances in which people
affiliated with these groups hired private detectives to impugn
whistle-blowers, journalists, and even government investigators. And
their efforts have been remarkably successful. Libertarian views on
taxes and regulation, once far outside the mainstream and still rejected
by most Americans, are ascendant in the majority of state governments,
the Supreme Court, and Congress. Meaningful environmental, labor,
finance, and tax reforms have been stymied.
Jane Mayer spent
five years conducting hundreds of interviews-including with several
sources within the network-and scoured public records, private papers,
and court proceedings in reporting this book. In a taut and utterly
convincing narrative, she traces the byzantine trail of the billions of
dollars spent by the network and provides vivid portraits of the
colorful figures behind the new American oligarchy.
Dark Money is a book that must be read by anyone who cares about the future of American democracy.
“A careful exposé. . . . Mayer closely documents her charges. . .while
delivering a swiftly flowing narrative. . . . A valuable contribution to
the study of modern electoral politics in an age that Theodore White,
and perhaps even Hunter S. Thompson, would not recognize.” Kirkus
"[D]eeply researched and studded with detail. . .it seems destined to
rattle the Koch executive offices in Wichita as other investigations
have not. [Dark Money] could inspire a more intense discussion
about the impact of this wealthy conservative cadre on the Republican
Party and the recent course of American politics.” Washington Post
"Dark Money emerges as an impressively reported and well-documented work. . . . The importance of Dark Money [flows]
from its scope and perspective. . . . It is not easy to uncover the
inner workings of an essentially secretive political establishment.
Mayer has come as close to doing it as anyone is likely to come anytime
soon. . . . She makes a formidable argument.” Times Book Review
“Revelatory. . .persuasive, timely and necessary. . . . [O]nly the most
thoroughly documented, compendious account could do justice to the
Kochs’ bizarre and Byzantine family history and the scale and scope of
their influence.” The New York Times
About the Author
Jane Mayer is a staff writer for The New Yorker
and the author of three bestselling and critically acclaimed narrative nonfiction books. She co-authored Landslide: The Unmaking of the President, 1984–1988,
with Doyle McManus, and Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas,
with Jill Abramson, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals,
for which she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, was named one of The New York Times
Top 10 Books of the Year and won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, the
Goldsmith Book Prize, the Edward Weintal Prize, the Ridenhour Prize, the
New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in
Journalism, and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. It was also a finalist
for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
For her reporting at The New Yorker,
Mayer has been awarded the
John Chancellor Award, the George Polk Award, the Toner Prize for
Excellence in Political Reporting, and the I. F. Stone Medal for
Journalistic Independence presented by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard.
Mayer lives in Washington, D.C.