January 27, 2017

The Lincoln Memorial. Credit: Ayolt de Roos / Flickr Creative Commons

Money and politics go together like Thelma and Louise. Candidates raise money for races, lobbyists raise money for causes, and industries hope that donations curry political favor. But, in the past eight years, the relationship between money and politics has - some would say - spun out of control. 

Looking for examples? A network of conservative interest groups spent almost $900 million in the 2016 election cycle. (Their liberal counterpart pledged only $50 million.) 

We talk about the growing influence of money in politics with Jane Mayer, journalist and author of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right,  and Theda Skocpol, a political science professor at Harvard University.

Three Takeaways:

  • Since the early 2000s, Charles and David Koch have held a bi-annual seminar. They meet for a couple of days and have full security details -- including, in recent years, hiring drones to patrol the conference perimeter. Attendees fork over at least $100,000, which then gets channeled into the wider Koch political network.
  • Liberals, by the way, have their own political network. But it’s far less effective than its conservative cousin. The Democracy Alliance was founded in 2005, a couple years after the Koch seminars. However, Skocpol is quick to note that they are less well-attended, and well-funded, than the Koch seminars. “Bottom line,” she says, “is that many more wealthy conservatives attend the Koch seminars [than Democrats attend Democracy Alliance].”
  • Mayer says that, in addition to having more funding, the Kochs are more organized, too. Attendees pool their money, which is then controlled by the Koch network. On the left, liberal groups attend The Democracy Alliance conference and “audition” for donations. Donors then get to decide which group (or groups) to give to.

More Reading:

The Kochs have responded to Mayer’s book, Dark Money. You can read that here. They have not responded to Theda Skocpol’s research.

money in politics, Jane Mayer, Theda Skocpol, Charles Koch, David Koch, Business, politics, Kara Miller

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