By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Jane Mayer
When corporations became people, a flood of money aggravated the worst instincts of democratic government. The inference of “Dark Money” is–with more money to influence opinion, those with the most gold, rule. Jane Mayer, the author, alludes to a veil that hides the names of wealthy people who contribute to chimerical foundations that pay to play politics in American elections, government policy decisions, and educational institutions. That veil comes from the Supreme Court’s decision to remove contribution limits by corporations that choose to influence American government. As long as contributions are not directly tied to particular candidates for office, the Supreme Court rules in “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” that any dollar limit on non-profit, and later, for-profit incorporation’s is a denial of free speech.
Mayer methodically researches the influence of a group of billionaires who believe all human beings can prosper when government is small and regulation of private enterprise is limited. Some of Mayer’s named billionaires are the Koch brothers, Richard Mellon Scaife, John M. Olin, the Bradley brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer, the Waltons, and others. Mayer argues that these billionaires are behind the rise of a 21st century radical right.
Of course, the radical right has always been in America but Mayer implies that it is better organized and influential because of its sophisticated support, political spin improvements, and abundant financial backing. Mayer’s documentation is convincing. It is interesting to read; not because it is right or wrong, but because it reveals how public opinion can be manipulated by a wealthy minority.
The manipulation Mayer chooses to expose is a class of billionaires who believe the American Dream exists, and that its existence is dependent on individual ability, hard work, and accumulation of money, power, and prestige. It is also a belief that what is good for business is good for quality of life and the environment.
The argument of this conservative belief may be characterized in history as temporal but recurrent; i.e. England grew to be a great nation in spite of the London fog from industrial development and early suppression of indigenous nations that became part of the English empire. One might argue that London fog (industrial pollution) and colonialism diminishes when it no longer serves the environmental and economic welfare of the country. These billionaires believe they, and all Americans, have the right to do as they please until it no longer benefits society’s wealth, power, or position. What counts in this conservative movement is the right to do as the individual chooses until it is no longer in their self-interest.
Mayer systematically explains how several American billionaires financially support many organizations and individuals that endorse their conception of free enterprise. The support extends to scholarships for students choosing a conservative ideological education, media acquisitions that spin toward conservative principles, professorships in universities supporting conservative views, financial support for conservative aligned non-profit think tanks, and Political Action Committees that finance wannabe elected officials who endorse the rights of self-interest.
The story of “Dark Money” is as American as apple pie. It has been present in politics since the revolution of 1776. It has become particularly acute in modern times because of the Supreme Court’s decision and the rising gap between rich and poor. What is at the heart of this conservative movement is a delusion that self-interest (see Ayn Rand) always benefits humankind. It is a set of beliefs that argues individual self-interest benefits society through unregulated competition; i.e. conservative beliefs that survival of the fittest connotes value defined by money; influence defined by power, and goodness defined by prestige. An opposing philosophy suggests value is defined by individual quality of life; influence by what others choose to give the individual, and goodness by doing no harm to others while being expert at what one does.
Mayer’s billionaires are misreading Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” and Friedrich Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom”. Neither Smith nor Hayek denies the importance of supporting those who are poor, those unable to break the cycle of poverty, or those who are disabled. All human beings are subject to greed, corruption, and excessive pride. That is why government’ checks and balances have served America so well.
Unquestionably, there is a danger of too much government because making decisions for others have unintended consequence. This is a failing that occurs at both ends of the political spectrum. Liberal billionaires are as capable of leading America astray as conservative billionaires. However, unintended consequence is what government checks and balances are meant to control, or at least mitigate. Neither government nor the rise of the radical right or left is the source of America’s evils; i.e. human nature is the nemesis.