While Mayer delves into the activities of Richard Mellon Scaife and other conservative billionaires who have spent heavily on political causes, she focuses mainly on Charles and David Koch. The brothers operated for most of their lives on the fringes of GOP politics but now command a central position. The increase in their status and sway is explained, she writes, by the brothers’ carefully calibrated efforts to pull together like-minded wealthy families whose influence has soared to levels unseen since the era of the robber barons, when corporate giants controlled individual members of Congress. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision — which allowed corporations to contribute unlimited money to political causes — “was in many respects a return to the Gilded Age,” she writes.
For 2016, the Kochs and their political allies have together committed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars. Their spending, largely through nonprofits that do not disclose their contributors, was portrayed at a secret meeting of Koch donors as part of “a movement” to create national “well being,” Mayer writes. In her telling, these “dark money” expenditures made in the guise of philanthropy are intended mostly to promote the financial well-being of the Kochs and other similarly situated dynasties.
While she discusses the financial and personal motivations of leading donors on the right, Mayer devotes relatively little attention to the role of billionaires on the left and mega-donors’ impact on Democrats. That, combined with the fact that she was not granted an interview with either David or Charles Koch, gives her book an unrelentingly critical, polemical tone.
But Mayer has not set out to write a nuanced portrait of the brothers. In her introduction, she calls out the Kochs for using “their fortune to impose their minority views on the majority” of Americans while working to undo checks on great wealth that have been in place since the Progressive Era. In the following chapters, she attempts to prove it.
The Kochs are accustomed to being attacked by Democratic politicians, advocacy groups and muckraking journalists. But Mayer’s book is so deeply researched and studded with detail that it seems destined to rattle the Koch executive offices in Wichita as other investigations have not. It could inspire a more intense discussion about the impact of this wealthy conservative cadre on the Republican Party and the recent course of American politics.
Other Koch biographies, including Daniel Schulman’s “Sons of Wichita,” have described the harrowing rivalries that developed among the brothers in their early years. Mayer details the sad state of the siblings’ adult relationships and its consequences. A 1982 sealed deposition from Bill Koch, for example, describes how Charles and David attempted to blackmail their brother Frederick by threatening to reveal to their fathe
Message too long. Click here
to view the full text.