(Stephen Voss)

For decades, billionaire libertarians Charles and David Koch have spent millions trying to reduce the size of government and slash regulations, making the brothers a target of the political Left and campaign finance reformers. But few people have dug deeper into the Koch empire and family history than New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer, author of the new book “Dark Money.” Among other revelations, she alleges that the brothers hired private detectives to investigate her after she published articles critical of them. We talk to Mayer about the book and about what the rise of Donald Trump means for the Kochs and their allies.

Guests:
Jane Mayer, staff writer, New Yorker Magazine; author of "Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right"

  • Skip Conrad

    Do the Koch brothers support Donald Trump? If so, how would they express their support, since Trump is taking no outside money?

    • Darlene Severn

      I think you need to research that one. It’s my understanding that he is in fact taking donations and his money is only a loan to his campaign. As money comes in he repays his loans to himself. Sleazy??

      • starchild

        Donald Trump is playing his supporters for suckers in multiple ways.

    • Chris OConnell

      No way do they support Trump.

      • Skip Conrad

        Then Trump has my support.

        • Chris OConnell

          If I was a Republican I would probably vote for him too since he is the most liberal, despite his offensive race-baiting and xenophobia.

    • Chen

      Last time I check, they are trying to stop Trump from becoming Republican nominee.

      • geraldfnord

        In the later Gojira movies, one is supposed to root for The Big Guy as he defends Tōkyō from worse monsters, but earlier, say “Gojira tai Mosura”, it really looked like the only loser when two giant monsters fought was everybody else.

      • Skip Conrad

        I’m voting for Trump then.

        • starchild

          Then you’re being reactive and allowing the Koch brothers to dictate your vote. But you won’t be the only one voting reactively. My sense from talking with people and listening to what they say is that most voters seem to be trying to “game the system” by voting based on how other people have voted, or how they expect other people to vote, rather than simply voting for the person they believe to be the best candidate.

          And how do these people know how other people have voted or are expected to vote? Mainly from the media, of course. Media coverage signals to them who they are supposed to take seriously, and who they are not (those not supposed to be taken seriously are generally ignored by the press, certainly not given equal coverage). And how does the press decide who is important enough to talk about and who is not? Certainly not based on ideas, personal character, or fitness to hold office!

          Mostly it’s based on herd mentality (which people others in the media are talking about), and on who already has power and/or money.

          Thus is democracy broken, in that the outcomes of elections do not reflect voters’ actual preferences, and thus does the electoral process favor those with money and power in ways that have nothing to do with spending by people like Charles Koch, Michael Bloomberg and George Soros.

          • starchild

            P.S. – If you’re wondering who I myself support for president, it’s Darryl Perry.

            Don’t know who he is? Thank the media that largely ignores alternative party candidates who aren’t wealthy/powerful.

          • Socrates Wilde

            I support Darryl W. Perry, too. Glad to know you’re supporting him over Gary Johnson.

  • EIDALM

    Big money have played big role in American Elections for so many years ,together with the Christian right have selected many of our presidents and other political figures ,that goes specially from Reagan Time ,so they religion and other divisive issues like race and sexual orientation to very often have the American people vote against their best interests ,and that is why we are in such bad shape today economically and in other ways as well with gun violence ,to the destruction of the American middle class and so on….THEY PROMISE YOU JESUS WHILE THEY ROB YOU OUT OF YOUR JOB ,EDUCATION ,SOCIAL SECURITY ,SAVINGS AND OTHERS

    • Curious

      Obama took millions in dirty money.

      • turquoisewaters

        I do not understand why you single out Obama. I am pretty sure he was not the choice of the Koch brothers, given the difference in policy on environment, health care, guns, and so many other things.

    • turquoisewaters

      Very well said.

    • WBryanH

      ++ Eidalm

  • Kurt thialfad

    How are the Koch brothers any worse than George Soros, Bill Gates, Sheldon Adelson, Bloomberg, Anne Cox Chambers, Rupert Murdoch, Richard Kinder, Charles Schwab, Marc Benioff, etc. Not to mention the unions. ??
    I understand the Koch bros. rank 59th in political contributions. Isn’t there really enough sleeze to share?

    • Chris OConnell

      What’s the difference between $9 million and $889 million? Open Society vs. closed.

    • Your kidding, right? I’ll give you Rupert Murdoch. His control of the press is a HUGE problem. Some of the others may be members of the John Burk Society, but still, the Koch brothers are pretty much the tip of the scum-berg. As for unions, sure, lots of unions have been infiltrated by, for example the Koch brothers, but they are not in the same category.

    • Chris OConnell

      Just to write down her answer. #59 ranking only includes disclosed contributions. 80% of dark money on the right-wing side. Their $889M pledge for this election is unprecedented. Nothing comes close.

    • WBryanH

      Yes, Kurt. Take the aggregate of these hugely moneyed super-elites. And you get what some argue is the Second Gilded Age:

      http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2014/05/08/thomas-piketty-new-gilded-age/

  • Curious

    Sounds like another “massive right wing conspiracy.” LOL!

  • Ben Rawner

    How can Americsns do anything to stop this?

    • 99to1

      Publicly refute climate-change deniers, and then vote the elected ones out of office, for starters.
      As to the oft-extended excuse that America can’t do anything about it, because China . . .

      well, China has scheduled the closure of their LAST coal plant for 2016.

      China has built up the largest solar-voltaic capacity in the world, in fewer years than the GOP has been blocking action in our country.

      Great educational experience: Look for the documentary film “This Changes Everything” by Naomi Klein and Ari Lewis.

      • Skip Conrad

        Can you please name a prominent climate-change denier that we can refute.

        • starchild

          I’m not that prominent, but you can start with me if you like. I’m a libertarian, not a right-winger, and am active in pro-freedom causes including police accountability, decriminalizing sex work, and ending the “War on Drugs”. I’m a vegetarian (close to vegan) concerned about the effect of human activity in many aspects of the environment, such as rainforest, coral reef, and other habitat destruction, aquifer depletion, and the release of chemicals such as pesticides and prescription drugs into the environment.

          However, I do not subscribe to the establishment position on global warming. Climate change is real and has been happening for billions of years. We know the earth has been both warmer, and cooler, at various times in the past than it is now. Various “models” aiming to predict climate change have repeatedly failed to accurately predict real-world temperature measurements. Antarctica has actually been *adding* ice in recent years. Et cetera.

          In short, I am absolutely *not* convinced by the establishment Anthropogenic Global Warming theory which holds that humans are mainly responsible for climate change, and that the earth getting warmer is some kind of crisis. I think this alarmism is a distraction from real environmental and other issues, and I do not appreciate the label “denier” and the various comments you often hear in the media, many of them disingenuous, that frame the debate as if people like myself are simply “denying” that humans have any role in climate change. Of course humans have some effect – our bodies themselves, like those of other mammals, are warmer than the atmosphere around us, so even if we were all living as hunter-gatherers, we would be having some negligible effect in warming the planet.

          The question is, how much? Are humans the dominant cause of warming observed during the late 20th century (which, contrary to many of the scare stories you may see, appears to have largely leveled off in the 21st century)? I believe the answer is no. If you’d like to try to convince me otherwise, I’m open to hearing your arguments. But to get a sense of the science on the other side of the question, please first watch the British documentary film “The Great Global Warming Swindle” (available free on YouTube and elsewhere). You may be surprised. Also, please do me the courtesy when discussing of presuming my intentions are good, because they are.

          • 99to1

            If you’re as open-minded as you say you are, you might take a

            look at this:

            http://insideclimatenews.org/content/Exxon-The-Road-Not-Taken

            Exxon’s Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuels’ Role in Global Warming Decades Ago
            Top executives were warned of possible catastrophe from greenhouse effect, then led efforts to block solutions.
            By Neela Banerjee, Lisa Song and David Hasemyer
            Sep 16, 2015

            And this:
            http://www.pnas.org/content/113/1/92.abstract
            Corporate funding and ideological polarization about climate change
            Justin Farrell1

            If you only have a moment, contemplate the chart on this page showing atmospheric carbon concentration since 1950 contrasted to the preceding 400,000 years.

            http://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/carbon-dioxide/

            I wish Disqus were capable of displaying graphic information.

          • starchild

            I’d prefer you present the relevant material from your links here, but I’m willing to check them out if you’ll start by watching the documentary film I recommended in my previous comment, to get a sense of the science on the other side.

            Given the media’s bias on the topic, it’s probably a safe bet that I’ve seen and read more material assuming that the earth is getting warmer mainly due to human activity than you’ve seen or read material supporting the opposing view.

    • De Blo

      Boycott Koch brothers’ products.

    • Ben I answer your question in this post.

      How dark money infects American minds
      http://www.spockosbrain.com/2016/03/10/how-dark-money-infects-american-minds/

  • Chris OConnell

    I saw Jane Mayer in her 3 hour appearance on C-SPAN’s book TV this weekend. I thought, “Brian Lamb (retired) deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom because C-SPAN is so great.” And I found out he received one from George W. Bush in 2007. That’s great, good job W. (But I really, really doubt that he ever watched C-SPAN!)

  • Chen

    Does this sound like a personal grudge to anyone? For the first 15 minutes, she just described how fortune 500 companies and politicians on both sides work in America. Hiring a private detective is nothing new, I am sure every big company boss and Washington politician has done it to defame their opponents.

    • 99to1

      Don’t think so.

      Doing opposition research on your political opponent’s public voting record is one thing.
      Hiring secret spooks to dig up dirt for use as slander or blackmail, is quite another.

      The more indefensible the motives and objectives, the more reprehensible the means employed to advance them.
      There’s nothing lower than a snake, and often, snakes surpass even themselves.

    • No it does not sound like a personal grudge.

  • This is one of the most important topics in the USA today! I am buying the book. Thank you!

  • Skip Conrad

    There are all kinds of people manipulating the media. The odd thing about Climate Change, was that it wasn’t always called Climate Change. It was previously called the GreenHouse Gas Effect, then it was called Global Warming.
    When will it be called what it really is? Human OverPopulation!!

    • Ehkzu

      Overpopulation is the root cause of climate change, which is called climate change because “global warming” doesn’t encompass ocean acidification, or the fact that winter still occurs every year.

      However, short of holding a lottery that results in 4/5 of the human race voluntarily committing suicide, climate change needs to worked on on every front. Otherwise our descendants are hosed.

      • DFinMA

        It’s a combination of overpopulation and per capita resource consumption but, yeah, too many of us.

      • Skip Conrad

        “Overpopulation is the root cause of climate change”
        No, the earth’s climate has been changing through the millennia. Human overpopulation wasn’t the root cause of climate change a 100 million years ago.
        Our descendants will be fewer, whether that is by our choice or by nature’s choice. The overpopulation has to stop – and will stop – with or without our intervention.

      • monsoon23

        70,000 years ago, a volcanic eruption reduced the Homosapien population to somewhere between 2,000 to 10,000. So the more people the better.

  • Ehkzu

    Looking at some of the comments defending the Koch brothers reminds me how tough science is on the foolish–particularly on ideologues, regardless of whether their bent is Left or Right. You have to be willing to revise or reject long-held beliefs when empirical reality goes against them. Ideologues won’t or can’t do that.

    And as the fallacy of their beliefs become more evident, ideologues always double down on them, making themselves more and more ridiculous.

    Particularly when those beliefs are the product of a billion-dollar disinformation campaign by powerful special interests. To be revealed as foolish is one thing–to be revealed as a dupe…a patsy…a pawn…well, that’s just unthinkable.

    Working for the Koch brothers for free is the weirdest form of philanthropy imaginable. Yet even in this comment thread you can see how some people dedicate themselves to the defense of the rich and powerful.

    “When called upon to split a treat with others he would say with a wise-guy grin, ‘I just want my fair share — which is all of it.’
    –author Jane Mayer, speaking of Charles Koch

  • Jane Mayer is talking about SCIENCE DENIERS! We are talking about the potential of 2/3 of the population of the World dieing of starvation sometime in the next 100 years or less. Once the permafrosts melts there will be a runaway warming and the World wide food chain will be disrupted. Climate change is the equivalent to nuclear armageddon and the trigger has already been pulled. This is the mother of all topics!

  • Ben Rawner

    Does your author think that stories like this has a cooling effect on the electorate? Do voters think “why bother because the machine is too powerful?

    • WBryanH

      I don’t think so Ben. I’ve followed the election cycles since the 70s. I haven’t such a populist surge. Such a rejection of the mainstream.

  • Jim Pascucci

    I think the author makes a mistake in assuming that the Kochs are motivated merely by their greed. In the little bit of research I’ve done I’ve found they’ve got a very consistent libertarian ideology- so low taxes and less regulation but also drug legalization and criminal justice reform. The key to their philosophy is reducing interference from the state in individuals’ lives, not merely reducing the ability of the govt to reach into their wallets. Also, see the climate change reporting in their publication, Reason Magazine. The science reporter there affirms the existence of climate change but does not advocate a large role for the state in addressing the problem.

    • Chris OConnell

      I think the author (of the comment) makes a mistake in assuming the author (of the book) assumes such a thing.

    • WBryanH

      Maybe so Jim. But one can strongly argue the Kochs succumbed to the dark side of their dichotomy.

    • turquoisewaters

      Their call for inaction on climate change and lower taxes is awfully self-serving. I cannot see this as anything else but using their wealth and power to get even more wealth and power – at the expense of less wealthy people and future generations.

    • monsoon23

      The author (Jane Mayer) does not assume the Koch’s are “merely” motivated by greed, she reports other motives; therefore, she is not mistaken. She is a reporter of facts, not an assumptionist (my word) nor a political advocate. Her research is sound and supported by other researchers. But I agree that Koch greed is their prime motivation, in addition to their ego motivation to influence control and yes, their ideological beliefs.

      Anyone that hates Hillary now, just wait until September, the anti-Hillary Koch money will have the rump-bots screaming for Trump to save us from socialism/communism destroying our economy. And when they do, they’ll believe they are thinking for themselves–not one in a thousand will have read Jane Mayer’s book on dark money.

    • gharlane

      As Mayer pointed out in her City Arts and Lectures speech, their funding shows what’s really important to them. They’re quite happy to find anti-CJ refurm, anti-drug-legalization, anti-gay candidates as long as they support the basic Koch platform: taxes are evil and no government oversight of business or attempts to get business to pay the full costs of their activities rather than internalizing profits for themselves and externalizing costs onto the rest of society (carbon pollution being perhaps the strongest example).

  • Jon Latimer

    What does your guest think the the Washington Post article on Charles agreeing with Sander’s on wealth consolidation? (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-koch-this-is-the-one-issue-where-bernie-sanders-is-right/2016/02/18/cdd2c228-d5c1-11e5-be55-2cc3c1e4b76b_story.html) Is this the “new Koch?”

  • geraldfnord

    What do they think of capital punishment? There’s no greater power for the State than that of taking lives…but on the other hand, there’s a fraction of ‘libert’arians that love the death penalty because it’ s just so damned butch (very different to ‘tough’, but not in the eyes of that sort) and simple….

  • EIDALM

    The scientist the Koch brothers hired and mentioned on the show is my friend and my old classmate in the physics dept at U C Berkeley Richard Muller who was an extreme climate change denial ,but after being hired by the Koch’s he changed his views some what ,but he came with much lower rise in temperature on the planet of 1/3 degrees instead of the expected 2 to 4 degrees centigrade.

    • WBryanH

      Per this Op-Ed, Muller agrees with “prior estimates of the rate of warming.”
      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/30/opinion/the-conversion-of-a-climate-change-skeptic.html?
      And he links to this: http://berkeleyearth.org/

      • EIDALM

        Richard Muller still under estimates the rise of global temperature by several factors ,his reasoning and arguments are very weak and not based on deep research of the subject….This matter now is real ,with the expansion of the use of fossil fuel and trillions of tons of CO2 put in the atmosphere every year ,it is real disaster up and coming .if the current trend continues ,life on earth as we know it will cease to exist in less than one hundred years.

  • Rohit Jain

    So, how come it’s just the conservatives that seem to be trying to use their money to influence direction towards what they believe in? Are all liberals just poor one percenters with no such money or power to influence direction towards their own beliefs? Or does this represent the political inclination of the reporter? And what is wrong with someone on either side of the political spectrum trying to influence direction towards what is in their own best interest? Is that illegal in this country? Is this country built on capitalism? And would not anyone fight back against someone raking mud against them? Or should they just acknowledge how they are just such bad people and how they are so selfish and self-centered and are out to just make more money and gain power at the expense of the country and its people? And what does all this say about a system that allows this and does not have any checks and balances against it? Are we focusing on the wrong problem, or the effect instead of the cause of how wrong motivations seem to have bad influence on our elected officials? Those wonderful, ethical, officials so motivated by what is best for the country and its people, and not for power and money, that we so diligently and purposefully elect, by the majority of us actively participating in the electoral system?

  • Barry

    A long time listener to forum and KQED (45 years). As far as this hour I’m very sad to say this episode was equivalent to an Alex Jones show. Please Micael don’t go there! I’m very disappointed. Please, we someone to bring a critical mind to our current political situation.

  • starchild

    When talking about money in politics, Jane Mayer should look at all the money being spent by GOVERNMENT ITSELF lobbying the public and trying to influence public attitudes toward government and its programs.

    The budgets funding every professional “spokesperson”, every public relations department at all levels of government, local, state, and federal – not to mention every glowing press release issued, every sanitized website and brochure, every “community relations” dog-and-pony-show put on by some official or agency – all of it is being spent almost exclusively not by neutral observers seeking to provide the public with an objective picture of what’s going on, but in service of the agendas of those in power, with the aim of making some part of government or its employees look good.

    This massive spending – perhaps we should call it “Even Darker Money” – goes virtually unreported on and ignored, because it is money stolen from the taxpayers rather than “outside money” given voluntarily by people like the Koch brothers, and is therefore apparently just taken for granted as part of “business as usual”.

    But the important thing to recognize is that almost all of this spending and activity is weighing in on the statist side of the political scales. In other words, it is those who run government using our own money to try to propagandize we the people into believing that they are doing a good job. A steady stream of propaganda meant to convince you that they deserve more money, that you should grant them more power and control over you and your life in the name of safety, equality, the environment, or whatever rationale they think will sell.

    Yet while this massive PR effort largely hidden in plain sight is undoubtedly having an effect, the people are increasingly not being fooled. The public has less faith and trust in government than ever.

    • Barry

      Great Post.

      • starchild

        Thank you, Barry!

  • Barry

    A long time listener to forum and KQED (45 years). As far as this hour I’m very sad to say this episode was equivalent to an Alex Jones show. Please Micael don’t go there! I’m very disappointed. Please, the country needs/begs someone to bring a critical mind to our current political situation. And this hour drags us down another intelectual rung and it was apparent you abandoned your sharp mind during this interview. Where do we go from here Micheal?

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