Author Jane Mayer on How the Koch Brothers Have Changed America
New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer spent some five years researching the Koch brothers and the vast network of right-wing, ultra-wealthy donors of which they’re a part. In her new book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Mayer lays out how this relatively small group of very rich Americans has managed to make views that once seemed radical part of mainstream American thought and life.
Mayer recently spoke to Rolling Stone about how America looks different today because of this network, how the Kochs are trying to influence the next generation, and how they tried to smear her reputation during the reporting process.
You write that the Koch brothers have “used their fortune to impose their minority views on the majority.” What have they accomplished in that respect?
One of their greatest accomplishments is in funding complete confusion on the subject of global warming in America. You can trace something like $25 million from the Koch family and their foundations, just over a three-year period, to organizations that deny the reality of global warming. And you can see that they’ve managed to change public opinion on the subject. Americans have gotten less certain on this issue, as the rest of the world has been going in the opposite direction. And you can see that our Congress has been captured by their interests and those of the fossil-fuel companies, so it will do nothing about global warming.
What are some other examples of how American society looks different today because of the Kochs’ influence?
This has been a 40-year project that Charles and David Koch have been funding with their vast fortunes to try to change the way Americans think. Another of their greatest accomplishments is in turning Americans against the idea of government being a force for good. It’s not they alone who have done this, but they’ve pushed very hard on it, and public-opinion polls show that Americans’ regard for government has just plummeted in recent years.
They’ve also succeeded in many ways in pushing through lawsuits that their donor group has funded. They’ve succeeded in gutting campaign finance laws, so many of the problems we now see in terms of unlimited spending were stirred in the first place by organizations that they’ve helped fund.
Speaking of unlimited funding, let’s talk about Citizens United. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have said that they would use overturning Citizens United as a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees, and even Jeb Bush has criticized the decision. What’s so bad about it? What has it wrought?
What Citizens United has done is equate spending money with free speech without limits. What people originally thought it would do is flood the system with corporate money, but in fact something quite different has happened: It’s flooded our system with unlimited money from individual tycoons, who all have very strong opinions.