Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Dark Money by Jane Mayer


Most people have been suspicious of the power of money.  Jane Mayer has compiled a great deal of research that uncovers some of the plots so our speculations are justified.  It is well written.

Joseph Stiglitz is quoted "Wealth begets power which begets more wealth."  Almost all of us want more of it.  A few are amazingly lucky.  Some work longer hours, some study and specialize to get more money per hour.  Others invest carefully and maybe take a calculated risk.  Some steal or deliberately mislead.  Many of the masses believe that any one who amasses large fortunes must have done something illegal or more likely unethical.  A bit unfair, but "Dark Money" casts light not only on a lot of dastardly deeds, but strong organized efforts to not only cover it up, but also make more of it legal.

It is easy to understand that lowering a tax rate or reclassifying an income steam to a lesser rate benefits whoever can pull it off.  Some of the very rich want more than that.  They resent the government taking their well deserved income and furthermore resent any restrictions on their ability to make money.  Do you ever wonder why if Americans in polls seem to prefer Democrat policies there is gridlock in Congress that impedes progress?

Before the Koch Brothers hit the spotlight they had some early unsuccessful efforts to gain political power, but after each loss they learned more.  Developing data bases and polling were key instruments gradually getting more sophisticated

The very rich can be hypocritical and self-serving.  Initially the infamous Koch Brothers opposed the government bailout, but reversed themselves when they learned the financial problems threatened them.  After Obama got in office he wanted to start a stimulation program, but Republicans forced him to reduce  the amount and to transfer 1/3 of the remainder to be tax deductions.  Their large donors were behind their votes.  Another example of hypocrisy cites Paul Singer, a hedge fund manager and Koch associate likes to buy up foreign debt and then get government to pressure payments.

Regulation are always painted as a bureaucratic string to hamper legitimate pursuit of profit.  The market is supposed to police abuses, but far too many people have been stung either by paying too much for shoddy goods or suffering their health or even risking their life.  Regulations are set up to control abuses.

Climate change was a big concern of the Koch brothers.  Actually George W. Bush at one time agreed climate change was real and he would do something about it.  Dick Cheney who worked for Halliburton was able to reverse trends.  Big Oil money, including Dark Money diminished support for action.  Climate Gate seemed to tarnish the motives of scientists and helped reverse some legislative progress.  Mitt Romney made a strong effort to court the Koch family--reversed stand on climate change

The Affordable Care Act infuriated a lot of people who see it as socialistic and a drain on the budget.  Yet countries with socialist health care plans all seem to have better results at lower costs.  Although not a priority of the Koch brothers they were pleased to add more muscle to their overall strategy.

The Tea Party is usually thought to have spontaneously developed from dissatisfied voters.  Jane points to a lot of background activity.  Racism played a major role with some members, but the Koch Brothers saw an opportunity to push their agenda.  Big Oil got involved.

After Ted Kennedy died in 2009, money from out of state gave the Republican choice a significant money advantage that was used to change the balance of power in the Senate with the election of Scott Brown.  Much of the money came from out of state.

Big money sought more leverage and over 2009-10 they were able to win a victory 5-4 known as Citizens United that allowed unlimited money to be used in election campaigns under the idea it was necessary for free speech.  Obama found himself caught up in the need to raise money to compete.  Denounced Citizens United decision.  "I'm swimming in the same muddy water."  The Democrats with many wealthy supporters had to temper their pitch so as not to offend Wall Street.

The 2010 election marked a strategic effort to gain control of state legislatures and has many senators and House of Representatives.  The Republicans gained control of mapping political districts for the majority of states.  Another project was ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) where legislature favouring big money interests are packaged and presented in state houses.

As 2012 approached, Republicans manoeuvred to get the big money that was now legal.  
Sheldon Adelson cared mainly for Israeli security and put his money towards Newt Gringrich as he felt he was the most reliable for his number one concern.  Eventually Mitt Romney was able to gather more money and become the nominee.

2012 Republican big money failed to win the Presidency, but won control of the House of Representatives with fewer votes than the Democrats.  Next election in 2014 they won majority status in the Senate.  This makes a progressive agenda next to impossible.

Other accomplishments of big Dark Money includes forcing a shut down by refusing to compromise (at the order of their donors).  Outside money allowed Scott Walker to survive a recall election and continue his crusade against union rights.  John Boehner forced to resign.

Jane and her boss at the New Yorker received a threatening email about to expose her.  It turned out to  be sloppy research (on their end not hers) and was easily repudiated.  She can't be sure who actually did it, but notes that she had done a critical article on the Koch family.

Koch Industries are on a major public relations campaign to position themselves as friends of the environment and benevolent employers.  They do have a legitimate charitable history and I noticed they are a major sponsor of the magnificent Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Along the way they have learned respect for polling, data bases and objective analysis.  They are sophisticated enough to develop better presentations of their ideas.

For 2016 the Koch network had planned to spend $889 million, but with Donald Trump they may change the emphasis more to senators and house representatives. Hilary could get in, but find herself fighting even stronger gridlock.  John Kasich's positive stand on Medicaid ousted him from Koch favour despite the fact that he was generality conservative.

What can be done?  Campaign finance laws must not only restrict the amount any individual (or corporation) can donate and large donations must be public.  It would be best to have total public financing, but that would also require some sort of standards for those who qualify.  You can be sure that big dark money is already at work trying to expand their base and impose a very conservative Republican agenda.  Although big Dark Money can overwhelm many voters, how about you?

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