In­flu­ence in the shad­ows Fran Alexan­der

Book on ‘Dark Money’ ex­plores Koch broth­ers’ strate­gies

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE - Fran Alexan­der is a Fayet­teville res­i­dent with a long­stand­ing in­ter­est in the en­vi­ron­ment and an opin­ion on al­most any­thing else. Email her at fran@deane-alexan­der.com.

In case you, whether Demo­crat, Repub­li­can, Green, Lib­er­tar­ian or what­ever, are cu­ri­ous how the pol­i­tics in our coun­try reached its cur­rent con­di­tion, ex­am­in­ing a cou­ple of draw­ings can ex­plain a lot of the mys­tery.

Names neatly ar­ranged in a web-like for­mat in­side the hard­back edi­tion of Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money, de­pict or­ga­ni­za­tions and en­ti­ties that col­lec­tively have be­come known as the Kochto­pus, and dif­fer­ent de­signs can be found on­line as well. Vis­ually dis­play­ing the network of the po­lit­i­cal spend­ing of David and Charles Koch and their best bil­lion­aire bud­dies, these pages are a quick Who’s Who ref­er­ence to where the ten­ta­cles of this em­pire reach. The book, how­ever, is more a story search­ing for, and some­times find­ing, the rea­sons in­cred­i­bly wealthy peo­ple spend hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to gain con­trol of the reins of this na­tion’s gov­ern­ment. We need look no fur­ther than these play­ers to get a clue why so many gov­er­nor­ships, leg­is­la­tures and red states are now hold­ing po­lit­i­cal sway.

Mayer looks back a gen­er­a­tion to the Koch broth­ers’ father, Fred, and his in­ven­tion of an im­proved tech­nique for ex­tract­ing gaso­line from crude oil, to sug­gest these broth­ers may have come by their deeply Lib­er­tar­ian views ge­net­i­cally, if that’s pos­si­ble. Dis­trust of gov­ern­ment, and es­pe­cially reg­u­la­tions on busi­ness, was in­stilled in these men early and started them on a decades-long process of us­ing gov­ern­ment to change gov­ern­ment. Per­haps their ge­nius lies in their pa­tience and per­se­ver­ance even more than in their ac­cu­mu­lated wealth, jointly one of the largest piles in the world at an es­ti­mated $96.6 bil­lion. Pro­tec­tion of their busi­ness in­ter­ests goes hand in glove with their po­lit­i­cal philoso­phies, and it’s hard to sep­a­rate one from the other when sur­vey­ing the scope of their in­flu­ence.

Clev­erly us­ing tax laws for phi­lan­thropy, the Kochs have em­bed­ded them­selves and their money into places they know can shape the fu­ture of their pre­ferred power struc­ture. Large do­na­tions to nu­mer­ous col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties and the devel­op­ment of aca­demic busi­ness and eco­nomic schools has surely had a heavy in­flu­ence on in­sti­tu­tions that are grooming the fu­ture lead­ers in those fields.

Mayer also uses the words “weaponized phi­lan­thropy” to de­scribe how the Kochs and oth­ers have fig­ured out how to use tax-ex­empt fund­ing and non-prof­its to do bat­tle against taxes and reg­u­la­tions, es­pe­cially en­vi­ron­men­tal regs. Cli­mate change reg­u­la­tory ac­tions, as well as most en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions, are in di­rect con­flict with oil, gas and coal in­dus­tries’ ways of do­ing things. Also, the ti­tans’ cor­po­rate con­flicts ex­tend to or­ga­niz­ing ways to keep la­bor unions un­der con­trol and civil rights ef­forts in check. Their wealth, and that of their ex­clu­sive club of fel­low bil­lion­aires, has spread their con­trol across a web of po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees, me­dia out­lets, and more or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­sti­tu­tions than even they can prob­a­bly name.

The Cato In­sti­tute, which refers to it­self as “a pub­lic pol­icy re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion,” and The Her­itage Foun­da­tion, which has “long been the bas­tion of the Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tive move­ment,” are two of the bet­ter-known think tanks founded and/or funded by wealthy busi­ness ty­coons. Also, the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Ex­change Coun­cil, bet­ter known as ALEC, touts that it is “com­prised of nearly one-quar­ter of the coun­try’s state leg­is­la­tors and stake­hold­ers from across the pol­icy spec­trum.” For decades ALEC has or­ga­nized and sup­ported politi­cians who are “ded­i­cated to the prin­ci­ples of lim­ited gov­ern­ment, free mar­kets, and fed­er­al­ism.” De­pend­ing on which list is con­sulted, there are ap­par­ently be­tween 17 and 30 ALEC mem­bers in Arkansas’ Leg­is­la­ture.

The Na­tion pub­li­ca­tion of July 18, which can be found on­line, had an ar­ti­cle ti­tled: “ALEC Is Talk­ing About Chang­ing the Way Sen­a­tors Are Elected: A pro­posed res­o­lu­tion ad­vo­cates for over­turn­ing the 17th Amend­ment so Repub­li­can-con­trolled state leg­is­la­tures could pick sen­a­tors.” We all need to be alert to ev­ery­thing these pow­er­ful groups are up to. Putting pre-pack­aged poli­cies in the hands of politi­cians that grease the wheels of busi­ness so they can be un­fet­tered by reg­u­la­tions seems to be the ma­jor mis­sion of these as­so­ci­a­tions and dozens more like them.

Money be­came even darker thanks to the Supreme Court’s one-vote ma­jor­ity rul­ing for Cit­i­zens United (a du­plic­i­tously named con­ser­va­tive non­profit) over the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion in 2010. Cor­po­ra­tions were es­sen­tially granted per­son­hood and ac­count­able cam­paign spend­ing be­came a thing of the past. A rather catchy ex­pla­na­tion of the con­se­quences can be seen on: http://sto­ry­ofc­i­t­i­zen­sunited.org.

“Dark Money” should be re­quired read­ing for ev­ery vot­ing ci­ti­zen in this coun­try. It is fore­telling the his­tory of our fu­ture if we do not pay at­ten­tion to the present.

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