Tuesday 29 March 2016

Dark Money: a review

Dark MoneyUnless you’ve been living under a rock these past few months you will be aware of a racist, misogynistic, underqualified boor aspiring to be the next president of the most powerful nation on the planet. While much of the world watches, aghast, as America in general and the GOP in particular tear themselves apart over a (bad) reality TV host turned unlikely politician, Donald Trump has one thing going for him – the fact that he is, as he reminds us regularly, beholding to no one; his campaign is supposedly completely self-funded. And this has the money people on the right baffled – if you can’t buy a politician, what good is he to you?

Which brings me to Dark Money by Jane Mayer.

The sub-title of Dark Money is “The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” and the book describes how the moneyed elite in the US have used their vast wealth to advance their personal and corporate objectives through selective funding of universities, think tanks, and political action committees, much of it hidden from public view through the use of tax-exempt private foundations and trusts.

Chief among this group are Charles and David Koch who, by most accounts, are ruthless in their pursuit of an unfettered business environment free of such irritants as environmental rules, employee safety standards, securities regulations, and tax laws. But the book identifies a number of other wealthy families and individuals who have also used their money in questionable ways to influence everything from the courts to Congress, and ultimately the presidency.

As a political junkie I found this book to be a fascinating read as it offers up a perspective on the increasingly libertarian stances being taken by US state and federal governments. There are also some quite strong indicators that the long-rumored Koch’s reach into the conservative movement in Canada probably did (and may continue to) occur, centered around the oil business, the Alberta oil sands, and the (now) Conservative Party of Canada. It’s all very disturbing, to be honest.

So I give the book a qualified recommendation. If you are interested in politics and the state of our western democracies, it’s an eye-opener. On the other hand, if your entire interest in politics is to respond to the latest attack ad on election day and vote accordingly, your eyes will glaze over before you finish the introduction so you might as well give it a pass.

Additional note: The author, Jane Mayer, was interviewed on CBC about her book. That interview can be seen here.


  1. This is scary stuff, David.

    It is well known that power attracts money (and the other way round) like manure draws the flies.

    And it doesn't really come as a surprise that Canadian politicians are no different from the rest of the world, or does it?

    1. Not really a surprise except that in Canada, at least, we have strict political funding rules, whereas in the US it's seen as freedom of speech and so the money flows in the billions. There has also been a long standing rumour that the Kocks funded Stephen Harper's rise to power in the Reform movement. Not sure that one will ever get proven, but it sure explains a lot.

  2. Trump. The stomach turns, and the mind reels. I am still recovering from my deep disgust with the Harper regime. It seems that all western democracies and sliding towards mindless xenophobic retrenchment and isolation. As Sonja said, it's scary stuff.

    1. It truly is appalling and a study in social science (or mob psychology?) on why 30+% of Americans polled claim they would support him.


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