The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right
On Sale: January 19, 2016
Hardcover / e-Book
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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 again? Why have protections for employees
been decimated? Why do hedge-fund billionaires pay a far
lower tax rate than middle-class workers?
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
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
These 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
Dark Money is a book that must be read by anyone who
cares about the future of American democracy.
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