What happens in Dark Money?

In Dark Money, journalist Jane Mayer tells the story of how billionaires like the Koch brothers have financed the rise of the radical right. Mayer focuses primarily on Charles and David Koch, but she also talks about billionaires John M. Olin and Richard Mellon Scaife, who funded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

  • In the 1930s, Fred Koch built his company by working with the Soviets and the Nazis on oil refineries. Koch had four sons: Frederick, Charles, and twins David and Bill. Frederick, the eldest, gravitated toward the arts, paving the way for Charles to assume control of the company. Rivalry between the Koch brothers led to infighting, attempted blackmail, and lawsuits.
  • Following the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Koch Industries repeatedly violated government regulations. In 1995, the Justice Department sued Koch Industries for lying about oil spills from their pipelines. Charles and David Koch now spend millions to campaign against the EPA.
  • Charles Koch cofounded the Cato Institute and Americans for Prosperity. The Koch brothers used their wealth to build a network of conservative politicians and organizations known as the "Kochtopus." The combined efforts of the Kochtopus helped the Republicans take control of the House of Representatives in 2010 and the Senate in 2014.

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In Dark Money, bestselling author and journalist Jane Mayer tells the story of how a few billionaires have reshaped the American political landscape and given rise to the radical right. Mayer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, draws on research she compiled over her decades as a journalist to detail how conservative billionaires have used their wealth to attain political power. Mayer focuses on the Koch brothers and their immense political network, but she also talks about several other billionaires, such as Richard Mellon Scaife and John M. Olin. Mayer recounts how all these wealthy families started "weaponizing" philanthropy. She begins by taking readers back to 1900, the year Fred Koch was born. Koch was a bright young man, and at the age of twenty-seven he invented an improved way of extracting gasoline from crude oil. Koch built his company, Winkler-Koch, by collaborating with the Nazis and the Soviets. In the 1930s, Koch taught Soviet engineers how to build oil refineries. Around the same time, Winkler-Koch made a deal with a German company in Hamburg to build an oil refinery on the Elbe River. This was part of Adolf Hitler's industrial expansion plan. Fred Koch profited off the rise of these dictatorships, turning his family-run business into a multinational corporation.

Fred and Mary Koch had four sons: Frederick ("Freddie"), born in 1933; Charles, born in 1935; and the twins, William ("Bill") and David, born in 1940. Fred was allegedly a "John Wayne type" who liked to take his boys hunting and frequently shared his political beliefs with them. Koch cofounded the John Birch Society, a conservative advocacy group that Mayer identifies as spreading conspiracy theories about various Communist "plots" to subvert America. His sons admired him and feared him at the same time. Mayer recounts Fred's use of corporal punishment. From an early age the Koch brothers were subjected to beatings and whippings at their father's hands. Charles appears to have been the most dominant of the brothers. David and Bill both looked up to Charles, while Freddie, more sensitive, retreated into a world of arts and books with his mother. When Freddie was thirteen, his father hired a psychologist to examine the boys. She recommended that the Koch boys be separated and that Mary Koch distance herself from her sons to make them more "manly." Freddie was shipped to Hackley, a prep school in New York. David chose to go to Deerfield Academy. Charles bounced around from school to school until finally graduating from Culver Military Academy. Bill followed in his...

(The entire section is 2,053 words.)