Brad Feld

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Book: Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

May 16, 2016
Category Books

Last week I was on vacation and off the grid. Amy and I decided to stay home, rest, just hang out, and read.

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right was first on the list. I have a very cynical attitude toward politics, especially in the context of big money, so I was fascinated by this book. I’d read snippets about it and had read the New Yorker article Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama by Jane Mayer in 2010 that was the inspiration for her to write this book.

After 450 pages, my cynicism had evolved from significant to profound. I kind of knew what I was getting into when I started reading the book, but the rabbit hole is very, very, very deep. I know that there are many people, especially in politics, who don’t care about the truth and that one person’s truth is not necessarily “the truth.” But the extent of the manipulation, strategies surrounding it, lies supporting it, and the money financing it were extreme even for my already cynical perspective.

I’ve never really engaged financially in politics. While I’ve contributed here and there to candidates that I support, I’ve always done it in the context of personal contributions to the campaign. While I’ve supported specific issues like patent and immigration reform, I don’t think I’ve ever given to a candidate through an organization designed to support one of these issues, but instead I have always given my gifts directly to activities around the specific issues.

With the emergence of Super PACs, it’s gotten more confusing, but I’ve tried not to support PACs, Super PACs, or bundlers. I’ve fallen into the trap of this several times, but always made sure that what I did wasn’t tax deductible or characterized as a charitable gift. I’m not trying to be a goody two-shoes, but rather just follow the rules and play by them.

While Mayer’s book focuses on the Koch’s, a bunch of their friends in their extended network, and the rise of the radical right, she alludes to similar dynamics going on now on the liberal front. While it’s easy to paint it as extremes of the Republican party, label it the rise of the libertarians, or describe it as a takeover of the Republican party, it’s clear to me that the financial dynamic described covers the entire political spectrum.

But that’s not the disturbing part to me, as money, influence, and power have always been wrapped up together. Instead, I ‘m bothered by the characterization of the activities as charitable, the blatant tax evasion from the contributors, the disingenuous behavior by the principles and their proxies, and the fundamental disrespect for a system that is supposed to be representative of the people.

Regardless of your political leanings or attitude, this book is worth reading, if only to have a perspective on how far we have gone into some alternate reality that now is driving how things work. Or maybe it’s always been this way, and we are just now noticing how much money is, and can be, involved.