|Thanks to Working Class Heroes for the cartoon.|
We're just learning billionaires secretly contributed $400 million to a nonprofit that's been funneling money to corporate lobbyists since 1999. Compare that with a $25 T-shirt purchase at a political convention -- you have to disclose that and pay sales tax (in most states).
"Conspiracies against the public don't get much uglier than this," writes George Monbiot at The Guardian. He's referring to the new revelations about the money-launderer Donors Trust.
Democracy Now reports,
Since 1999, the nonprofit charity Donors Trust has handed out nearly $400 million in private donations to more than 1,000 right-wing and libertarian groups. The fact it has been able to quietly do so appears to explain why it exists: Wealthy donors can back the right-wing causes they want without attracting public scrutiny. The most detailed accounting to date shows Donors Trust funds a wish list of right-wing causes, prompting Mother Jones magazine to label it "the dark-money ATM of the right."Donors Trust and its affiliate Donors Capital Fund get money from the usual suspects:
Here's what they've been doing lately:
- Funneling money to ALEC, the dating service for lawmakers and corporations
- Supporting 51 state-level corporate lobbying groups that masquerade as "think tanks" (e.g., the Mackinac Center, which pushed No Rights At Work in Michigan).
- Establishing a pro-billionaire statehouse news network including Watchdog.org and Statehouse News Network.
- Funding a group called Project on Fair Representation, which aims to repeal the Voting Rights Act.
- Spending $118 million on 102 different groups to dismiss climate science or downplay the need to take action.
They need a network of independent-looking organisations that can produce plausible arguments in defence of their positions. Once the arguments have been developed, projecting them is easy. Most of the media is owned by billionaires, who are happy to promote the work of people funded by the same class. One of the few outlets they don't own – the BBC – has been disgracefully incurious about the identity of those to whom it gives a platform.
By these means the ultra-rich come to dominate the political conversation, without declaring themselves. Those they employ are clever and well-trained, with money their opponents can only dream of. They are skilled at rechannelling public anger that might otherwise be directed at their funders: the people who tanked the economy, who use the living planet as their dustbin, who won't pay taxes and demand that the poor must pay for the mistakes of the rich. Anger, thanks to the work of these hired hands, is instead aimed at the victims or opponents of the billionaires: people on benefits, trade unions, Greenpeace, the American Civil Liberties Union.It's a conspiracy that isn't just killing the middle class. It's killing democracy, as well. Step One is to create gridlock at the national level by funding political campaigns. UK writerJonathan Hopkin explains:
Why risk annoying powerful people who can finance your reelection, when you could do nothing and blame someone else for the bad consequences of failing to deliver reforms?British author Charles Stross puts it a little differently:
Unfortunately, democracy is broken… our representative democratic institutions have been captured by meta-institutions that implement the iron law of oligarchy by systematically reducing the risk of change. They have done so by converging on a common set of policies that do not serve the public interest, but minimize the risk of the parties losing the corporate funding they require in order to achieve re-election.Since so little gets done at the national level, the billionaires are free to focus on the states. That's where ALEC and the State Policy Network wreak their havoc over the fierce objections of the public.
But you knew about that already...