Money & Politics

A Must Read: Jane Mayer’s ‘Dark Money’ Uncovers Hidden History of Billionaire Kochs

In her new book, the New Yorker writer considers the damage the Koch brothers' network has done to our democracy.

A Must Read: Jane Mayer's 'Dark Money'

Activists hold a protest near the Manhattan apartment of billionaire and Republican financier David Koch on June 5, 2014 in New York City. The demonstrators were protesting against the campaign contributions by the billionaire Koch brothers who are owners of Koch Industries Inc. The brothers have become a focus of Democrats and liberals as they are accused of skewing the political playing field with their finances. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

This weekend, I brought home Jane Mayer’s new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Mayer is the New Yorker staff writer whose reporting can leave a reader breathless. The calm, patiently-paced “voice” in every one of her books demands that attention must be paid. I had not even opened Dark Money, however, when an email popped up from an old friend — a long-time public servant and experienced cultural and arts administrator who had beat me to the punch. Here’s his reaction:

“I have just finished Jane Mayer’s enlightening (and depressing) book, “Dark Money,” which I assume you have also read.

“Her thesis, impressively backed by careful research and a wealth of rich anecdote, is that the Kochs and their network of billionaires have ALREADY bought the American political system: the House, the Senate, many state legislatures, the systems of legislative and Congressional redistricting and significant beachheads in American higher education. Only the White House has eluded their grasp, though now most of the Republican candidates are dependent on their largesse and responsive to the policy demands of the plutocrats who bankroll all except Trump. Further, she argues that what we once knew as the Republican Party is, in effect, being supplanted by a private party of billionaires who use its machinery but have little use for the traditional political tools of compromise and negotiation. Why? Because they want what they want, hate government and don’t really care if it works.

Book jacket of Jane Mayer's new book on the Koch brothers, entitled 'Dark Money'

“In North Carolina the Kochs’ associate, a billionaire merchant named Art Pope, has poured money into state legislative contests, engineered a GOP takeover of the legislature and the Congressional delegation, installed himself as the state budget director and gutted the budgets for public education and environmental protection. He has masterminded a purge of liberal faculty at the University of North Carolina, the firing of the system’s president, and the installation of George W. Bush’s education secretary — a woman with no college or university leadership experience — as head of the university system.

“I am still reeling a bit from having read the book, and am wondering if whether the despair I feel is an overreaction. Read it yourself and consider what the chances are that we can undo the damage that has already been done to American democracy.”

So if you don’t hear from me for a while, you will know what I am doing. I urge you to read Dark Money, too — and in the comments section below. share with us with your own “review.”

First, though, to find out what happened to Mayer when her subjects found out she was on to them, check out Charlie Pierce’s column in Esquire.

Bill Moyers

For more than half a century, Bill Moyers has been listening to America as a journalist, writer and producer. You can explore his body of work on the Bill Moyers Timeline. Follow his work on Twitter at @BillMoyers.