A Book Review for an Election Year

Along with income inequality, one of the most-discussed issues in the Presidential election year is the role of money in political campaigns.  Following the Roberts Court’s ruling in the Citizens United Case, which basically equated money with free speech, large numbers of Political Action Committees masquerading as charities, such as the Americans for Progress, were supported by wealthy donors to funnel money to selected candidates.  These so-called super-PACs could raise unlimited amounts as long as they were not “coordinated” with the candidate’s campaign.  This process and it after-math are the heart of Jane Mayer’s new book, “Dark Money.”

According to the book, Ed Gillespie, currently the front-runner for the Republican nomination for Governor of Virginia, was one of the first political operatives to realize the potential surrounding the Supreme Court’s decision, and began to organize attacks on regulation having to do with environmental protection and tax policy.

The perception that business is under attack and a response must be begun dates back to the early 1970’s.  Lewis Powell, a Richmond lawyer who served as a distinguished member of the Supreme Court, outlined a type of response that included an organized to roll back regulations and other government policies that, he perceived, were undermining the American private Enterprise System. (see reclaim democracy.org). Powell served on many corporate boards including tobacco giant Phillip Morris.  His ideas were taken up by several individuals of significant wealth.

The book indicates that those who found the dark side of American politics are mindful in operations that have significant impact on the environment.

The Olin Corporation is an example.  Olin was a significant polluter.  It was the largest manufacturer of DDT, which was eventual banned by the government in 1972.  In the town of Saltville, Va., Olin’s Chlorine production spilled significant amount of mercury into the Holston River.  The company ceased operations shortly after it was reported from Japan that large exposure to mercury in water caused birth defects.  Members of the Olin family are significant contributors to conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute

The most significant of the “dirty money” fraternity are the Koch brothers (No relation to former mayor of NY Ed Koch).  Their oil refining and pipeline business if one of the largest privately-held pipeline companies in the United States.  The family has a very interesting history. Earlier generations did business with both Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Family members were members of the John Birch Society. This is the same group that believed that President Eisenhower was a Communist.

In her research, Jane Mayer discusses many legal problems that Koch industries has had under the current leadership of Davis and Charles Koch, some involving outright theft of oil from Native Americans’ reservations, significant instances of pollution. One particularly disturbing case involved the death of an employee named Donald Carson who died of Leukemia in 1997.  Doctors believe that his cancer was the result of exposure to benzene, a chemical involved in refining crude oil. The Kochs refused to pay him Workmen’s Compensation even though a company-sponsored blood test indicated five years before his death that his blood was poisoned. The employee was subsequently terminated from the company.  Charles Koch believes that government regulations are “socialistic.” Employees within the company that brought up potential health issues to OSHA were fired. In one case, involving a pipeline explosion, resulting in the death of an employee, a jury found that the Koch’s not only negligent but malicious, ordering them to pay a settlement three times the hundred million Dollars that was originally requested.

Ms. Mayer does acknowledge that the Koch Brothers have given significantly to “real charities” such as Lincoln Center in New York and several medical research institutes. According to the author, these contributions served to soften their image and make their political activities seem less threatening and less self-serving.

Following the plan, laid out many years ago by Lewis Powell, American Universities are the fountainhead of anti-business attitudes in the United States. The theories of the Austrian school of economics was believed to provide an intellectual basis for the type of free-for-all capitalism advocated by the Koch brothers.  In 1981, the Mercatus Center was established at the George Mason University in George Mason University.  The Center claimed that it “bridged the gap between academic ideas and real world problems.”  Records obtained by Jane Myer indicate that the brothers have contributed $30 million to the Institute. One historian on the faculty describes the institute as a “lobbying group for corporate interests.”

Whether you agree with the author,  Jane Mayer, the current rise of “outsider politicians” in both parties shows that much of the public perceives that the system is rigged in favor of the ultra wealthy.

— D. Leslie Schreiber

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22 responses to “A Book Review for an Election Year”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    Thinking about this for a while Les – and I think a case can be made for free speech – to pay to have free speech published.

    but my problem is – just as with Virginia’s laws – the linkage between who is buying it and how we know – is broken.

    so a LOT of money can be spent and easily “coordinated” in a day of modern text communication – with burner phones and encryption.. there are numerous and ample ways to coordinate… – which again – would not particularly bother me if I knew the Koch brothers were paying – I’d KNOW that we’re listening to their crap.. and likewise ignore it as biased offal from rich guys…

    that’s where we need to fix it. If people KNEW this crap was coming from where it comes from – they’d KNOW and take that into consideration.

  2. Interesting how Meyers focuses exclusively on conservative and/or libertarian donors and ignores the mega-donors like George Soros and Tom Steyer who dump millions into progressive causes, not to mention the money that emanates from labor unions — much of it extracted against their will from union members who neither want to be union members nor support the uses towards which the money is put. Neither does she discuss the millions of dollars in federal dollars funneled to community activist groups for political activity — effectively underwritten by tax dollars.

    In other words, it sounds like a highly biased and blinkered account designed to support a pre-existing narrative of evil corporations running the country. That’s not to say that the content is erroneous — I cannot say because I have not read the book, only Les’s review — but the cherry picking of data does create a highly misleading impression of the role of money in American politics.

    A example of obvious bias, cited in Les’s review above, is impugning the Koch brothers by the actions of “earlier generations” and “family members,” as if those actions shed light on the values and motives of the Koch brothers themselves. That’s classic guilt-by-association, the practice of which was deemed despicable during the McCarthy-era red scare when aimed against progressives but now is deemed perfectly acceptable when the targets are conservative.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    You’re highlighting your own comment?


  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think, in general, Soros, the unions, planned parenthood and others have no problem identifying who they spend money on.

    On the other side – they do everything they can to hide it.


    you rail about the unions. do you actually know who is getting Koch money?

  5. TruthSquad Avatar

    This book review contains a major factual error. It states that the John Birch Society is “virulently anti-Semitic.” This is not only false, it is recklessly and/or maliciously so, to the point of being libelous. The John Birch Society has never been anti-Semitic, has always denounced anti-Semitism, and even its harshest critics have not made such a reckless/malicious false accusation. Instead, the JBS has always expelled anti-Semites who are discovered immediately, and it has always had prominent Jewish people as leaders/members, many of whom I know and have worked with very closely over the years. This is all easily verifiable with two seconds worth of research. Kindly correct the factual error as soon as possible to avoid misleading readers and damaging the reputation of many good Americans.

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Good post, Les.

    Jim, Soros is always transparent about the money he spends.

    Big difference.

  7. Les Schreiber Avatar
    Les Schreiber

    Several weeks ago the WSJ ran an article reporting the Hank Greenberg,former head of AIG,gave $10 million to the Jeb Bush campaign. Why can’t all contributions be this open??

  8. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Where does Les’s review say that the John Birch Society anti-Semitic?

    1. Good question. Les’ exact statement was, “Earlier [Koch] generations did business with both Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Family members were members of the John Birch Society.” Not as alleged. Nor, at least directly, guilt by association, just juxtaposition.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    it seems the folks concerned about the unions and Soros have no real wa forward other than to point out what they do not like.

    I for one would agree readily to a “no union money allowed in politics” – period – if we had some kind of countervailing balance … and would settle for full disclosure of where all money goes – Koch or Soros – immediately and openly – no convoluted paths, no hidden laundering.

    let the people who vote KNOW where the money IS coming from AND where it IS going and let Democracy work the way it was intended.

    what we have right now is corruption – and apologists for corruption…

  10. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    What a truckload of crap. The same reporting and disclosure requirements apply to the same type of entity, with one glaring exception – the media. A superPAC is a superPAC. Both the Kochs and Soros (any many others) donate to superPACs. In fact, the most recent count puts Soros at the top as the biggest donor. http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/02/06/soros-top-individual-donors-as-100-million-floods-presidential-super-pac/

    The person who can spend money without disclosure is Jeff Bezos through the WaPo.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      you’re citing Breitbart as a reference? good lord guy. you’re sucking 100 proof KOOL AID –

      ” Democrat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pocketed the largest individual single Super PAC donation with a $6 million coming from liberal billionaire George Soros’ ‘Priorities USA Action.’

      Can you tell me right now what candidates and PACs the Koch boys are giving money to?

      yes or no? got a list like you do for Soros?

      try this:

      ” In January 2015, at a private conference in Palm Springs, Calif., the political network led by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch announced plans to spend $889 million in the 2016 elections. The organization consists almost entirely of groups that don’t register under the campaign finance laws and therefore don’t publicly identify their donors.

      Journalist Jane Mayer traces the growing influence of the Koch brothers and other wealthy conservative donors in her new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. According to Mayer, the Kochs and other conservatives have created philanthropic entities that enable them to aggressively pursue a libertarian agenda of lower taxes, deregulation of business and the denial of climate change.

      Because they are considered charities, the philanthropic groups “don’t need to disclose the names of their donors,” ”


      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        Larry, you’re getting to be as paranoid as Richard Nixon. The Breitbart source is opensecrets.org

        And in today’s easy-entry news/opinion market, why I am paying taxes to support NPR?

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          TMT – does Open secrets show the 800 million the Koch Bros have put forth and to what candidates?

          ” Koch Brothers’ Budget of $889 Million for 2016 Is on Par With Both Parties’ Spending”

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            TMT – there’s a book – about a concept called DARK MONEY -and it’s all about money that is put into the political system in convoluted and hard-to-follow ways that defeats clear disclosure

            George Soros money is openly disclosed and it’s 1/10 of the money that the Koch guys promise to put into the system – but in such a way that no one will know to who it goes to.

            to me that totally perverts the basic tenets of Democracy and clears the way for money to effectively buy elections.

            I WANT to KNOW who Soros is giving money to but I ALSO want to know who Koch is.

            you should too.

            Open Secrets itself actually documents it:


      2. Hey guys — that Open Secrets chart is pretty amazing. But instead of pointing fingers at Koch or Soros, why can’t we agree that the shell games and lack of transparency are a problem on both sides of the political spectrum? I’d like to see open attribution for all such donations. Despite the difficulty of closing the donation loopholes, there oughta be a way.

        By the way, Larry, how did you post that chart as a photo within a “comment”?

  11. LarrytheG Avatar

    Acbar – I have, from the beginning, and always, advocated for EVERY DONOR – complete and immediate disclosure of the money with no possibility of secretly funding anyone or effectively laundering money – left or right or green or purple.

    And over and over – it often seems that the folks who seem to prefer the Koch and ALEC and company instead of readily agreeing to ban all dark money – instead, deflect and keep blathering about Soros and unions and ignore/refuse to support the disclosure requirement.

    so we continue to see these posts complaining about Soros and unions and still no support of uniform disclosure for all money that would completely expose the way that the Koch brothers put 10 times more money than Soros in the system – but effectively hide it so that when you go to a site that shows that purports to show the money – 9/10s of what the Koch bros actually put in the system – is not there.

    I posted a link to a URL image… which in BR, never before incorporated the actual image. Videos – yes – for some like YouTube will also do this while others non-YouTube – sometimes. I’ve never got non-image , text files to display just their link until now and actually did not expect the image to display and had I known would not have selected the enlarged version.

    but if Jim has fixed it now so that links with images with display – that would be a good step forward … a picture is often worth a 1000 , yadda yadda and perfect to show how modern political money hiding is done.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Larry, as I’ve posted many times, I would support a constitutional amendment that limited campaign contributions to a reasonable sum annually from natural persons only. No corporate, nonprofit, union, bundled or PAC contributions. But unless and until the constitution is changed, it isn’t changed.

      And I rather like the Koch brothers’ participation. They balance a lot of others.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        why not let the Constitution alone and just require full and immediate disclosure and no dark money?

        you say you LIKE the Koch brothers participation.

        Do you APPROVE of them laundering money so we don’t know who gets it?

        that’s what I object to .. not their “participation” but perversion of the intent of the basic tenets of Democracy…

        do you support full and immediate disclosure of money from all sources – right now – without using the Constitution solution as a de-facto excuse to allow what is going on now – to continue?

        1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

          Larry, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech allows people to spend their own money on elections so long as they do not coordinate with a candidate’s campaign.

          The laws permit movement of money from candidate to candidate; gifts from one nonprofit to another; and PAC contributions to other PACs. So long as that is the law, it’s the law, and, as Acbar notes, everyone is doing it. What upsets a lot of people is that the Kochs have found a way to counter the MSM and its supporters.

    2. Thanks for the photo URL tip. Will try it.

  12. LarrytheG Avatar

    TMT – you’re defending the money laundering? you want Soros and others to do it also? you want ALL money hidden?

    that’s your solution?

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