Dark money.

Back to politics of the bigger order.

I stopped and pondered whether I should share this with you but then I decided to so do. Reason is that this is …. well, let me put it in the words of the essay: “Dark money is among the greatest current threats to democracy. It means money spent below the public radar, that seeks to change political outcomes. It enables very rich people and corporations to influence politics without showing their hands.

Enough said!


You Want It Darker?

10th December 2018

The remarkable story of how the hard-right Koch brothers funded a Trotskyite splinter group.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 7th November 2018

Dark money is among the greatest current threats to democracy. It means money spent below the public radar, that seeks to change political outcomes. It enables very rich people and corporations to influence politics without showing their hands.

Among the world’s biggest political spenders are Charles and David Koch, co-owners of Koch Industries, a vast private conglomerate of oil pipelines and refineries, chemicals, timber and paper companies, commodity trading firms and cattle ranches. If their two fortunes were rolled into one, Charles David Koch, with $120bn, would be the richest man on Earth.

In a rare public statement – an essay published in 1978 – Charles Koch explained his objective. “Our movement must destroy the prevalent statist paradigm.” As Jane Mayer records in her book Dark Money, the Kochs’ ideology – lower taxes and looser regulations – and their business interests “dovetailed so seamlessly it was difficult to distinguish one from the other.”

Over the years, she notes, “the company developed a stunning record of corporate malfeasance”. Koch Industries paid massive fines for oil spills, illegal benzene emissions and ammonia pollution. In 1999, a jury found that it had knowingly using a corroded pipeline to carry butane, which caused an explosion in which two people died. Company Town, a film released last year, tells the story of local people’s long fight against pollution from a huge papermill owned by the Koch brothers.

The Koch’s chief political lieutenant, Richard Fink, developed what he called a three-stage model of social change. Universities would produce “the intellectual raw materials”. Think tanks would transform them into “a more practical or useable form”. Then “citizen activist” groups would “press for the implementation of policy change.”

To these ends the Kochs set up bodies in all three categories themselves, such as the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the Cato Institute and the “citizens’ group” Americans for Prosperity. But for the most part they funded existing organisations that met their criteria. They have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a network of academic departments, thinktanks, journals and movements. And they appear to have been remarkably successful.

As researchers at Harvard and Columbia universities have found, Americans for Prosperity alone now rivals the Republican party in terms of size, staffing and organisational capacity. It has pulled ”the Republican party to the far-right on economic, tax, and regulatory issues.” It was crucial to the success of the Tea Party Movement, the ousting of Democrats from Congress, and the staffing of Trump’s transition team. The Koch network has helped secure massive tax cuts, the smashing of trade unions and the dismantling of environmental legislation.

But their hands, for the most part, remain invisible. A Republican consultant who has worked for Charles and David Koch told Jane Mayer that “to call them under the radar is an understatement. They are underground.”

Until now, there has been no evidence that Charles and David Koch have directly funded organisations based in the UK. But a few weeks ago, a reader pointed me to one line he found in a form submitted to the US government by the Charles Koch Foundation, which showed money transferred to a company that appears to be the US funding arm of a UK organisation. Once I had grasped its significance, I set up a collaboration with the investigative group DeSmog UK. We could scarcely believe what we were seeing.

The organisation the Charles Koch Foundation has chosen to fund is at first sight astounding: a US organisation established by an obscure magazine run by former members of a tiny Trotskyite splinter group. Some of its core contributors still describe themselves as Marxists or Bolsheviks. But the harder you look at it, the more sense the Koch donations appear to make.

The name of the magazine is Spiked. It emerged from a group with a comical history of left factionalism. In 1974, the International Socialists split after a dispute over arithmetic in Volume 3 of Das Kapital. One of the new factions formed the Revolutionary Communist Group. In 1976, it split again, and one of the splinters became the Revolutionary Communist Tendency. It was led by a sociologist at the University of Kent called Frank Furedi. In 1981 it changed its name to the Revolutionary Communist Party.

In 1988, the party launched a magazine called Living Marxism (later LM). By then, it had abandoned many of its former convictions. Among the few discernible traces of its revolutionary past was an enthusiasm for former communists in the Balkans, such as Slobodan Milošević. In 2000, it closed after losing a libel case: it falsely claimed that ITN had fabricated evidence of Serb atrocities against Bosnian Muslims. But as soon as the magazine folded, a network of new groups, with the same cast of characters – Frank Furedi, Claire Fox, Mick Hume, Brendan O’Neill, James Heartfield, Michael Fitzpatrick, James Woudhuysen – sprang up to replace it. Among these organisations were the Institute of ideas, the Academy of Ideas, the Manifesto Club and a new magazine, Spiked. It had the same editor as LM (Mick Hume) and most of the same contributors.

We found three payments over the past two years from the Charles Koch Foundation. They amount to $170,000, earmarked for “general operating support”. The payments were made to Spiked US Inc. On Spiked’s “Donate” page is a button that says “In the US? Donate here”. It takes you to the PayPal link for “Spiked US, Inc”. Spiked US, in other words, appears to be its American funding arm. Beyond a postal address is Hoboken, New Jersey, it is hard to see what presence it has in the US. It appears to have been established in 2016, the year in which the Koch donations began.

When I asked Spiked what the money was for and whether there had been any other payments, its managing editor, Viv Regan, told me that the Charles Koch Foundation has now given Spiked US a total of $300,000, “to produce public debates in the US about free speech, as part of its charitable activities.” She claims the foundation supports projects “on both the left and the right”. The Koch Foundation has funded “a free-speech oriented programme of public debates on campus titled the Unsafe Space Tour” and four live events, the first of which is titled ‘Should we be free to hate?’. She told me “We’re very proud of our work on free speech and tolerance, and we are proud to be part of the programme.”

But I have been unable to find any public acknowledgement of this funding. Neither on the videos of the debates, in the posters advertising them or in reports of the events in Spiked magazine is there any mention of the Charles Koch Foundation. From what I could see of the title slides in the videos, they acknowledged an organisation called the Institute for Humane Studies, but not the Foundation. Spiked has yet to reply to my questions on this matter.

The Koch brothers are famously careful with their money. According to Jane Mayer, they exert “unusually tight personal control over their philanthropic endeavours”. David Koch told a sympathetic journalist, “If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent. And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding.” So what might have attracted them to this obscure organisation?

Spiked magazine, now edited by Brendan O’Neill, appears to hate left-wing politics. It inveighs against the welfare state, against regulation, the Occupy movement, anti-capitalists, Jeremy Corbyn, George Soros, #MeToo, “black privilege” and Black Lives Matter. It does so in the name of the “ordinary people”, whom, it claims, are oppressed by the “anti-Trump and anti-Brexit cultural elites”, “feministic elites”, “green elites” and “cosmopolitan politicians”.

It repeatedly defends figures on the hard right or far right: Katie Hopkins, Nigel Farage, Alex Jones, the Democratic Football Lads’ Alliance, Tommy Robinson, Toby Young, Arron Banks, Brett Kavanaugh, Viktor Orban. They are portrayed as victims of “McCarthyites” trying to suppress free speech. It demands the hardest of possible Brexits, insisting that “No Deal is nothing to fear”, as it would allow the UK to scrap EU regulations.

But what it appears to hate most is environmentalism. It rails against “climate scaremongering”, and has called for fracking and coal production to be ramped up. It blames the Grenfell Tower disaster on “the moral fervour of the climate change campaign”. It mocks the idea that air pollution is dangerous and has proposed abolishing the planning system. “We need to conquer nature, not bow to it,” it contends. “Let’s make the ‘human footprint’ even bigger”.

Spiked’s writers rage against exposures of dark money. It calls the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr, who has won a string of prizes for exposing the opaque spending surrounding the Brexit vote,the closest thing the mainstream British media has to an out-and-out conspiracy theorist”. It carries numerous articles by writers from the obscurely-funded Institute of Economic Affairs and from the Cato Institute, that was founded by Charles Koch. Its editor, Brendan O’Neill, also writes for Reason Magazine, owned by the Reason Foundation, which has received $1 million from the Charles Koch Foundation over the past two years.

Bizarrely, Spiked still uses Leon Trotsky to justify its positions. It claims to have built its philosophy on his objective of “increasing the power of man over nature and … the abolition of the power of man over man”. This means, it says, that “we should fight for greater human dominion over the natural world”, and that regulatory power should not be used to prevent anyone from exercising their agency. The result appears to turn Trotsky’s objective on its head: without constraint, those with the greatest agency can exercise uninhibited power over others.

Its enthusiasm for Trotsky is highly selective. As one of Spiked’s writers noted in 2002, his central message was that “the retreat behind national boundaries is a recipe for reaction”. Yet the magazine’s defence of both Brexit and Viktor Orban, Hungary’s right-wing prime minister, is founded on the notion of national sovereignty. Spiked seems to have remembered everything Leon Trotsky wrote that could be recruited to the cause of corporate capital and the hard right, and forgotten all his, shall we say, less enthusiastic musings about those forces.

Above all, its positions are justified with the claim to support free speech. But the freedom all seems to tend in one direction: freedom to lambast vulnerable people. The Unsafe Space tour that the Charles Koch Foundation financed was heavily slanted towards this line. Yet, when I exercised my freedom of speech in sending my questions to Spiked, I was denounced on the front page of the magazine as a “McCarthyite”. This is its favourite insult, which it uses prolifically to dismiss legitimate inquiries and critiques. The usual term for asking awkward questions about powerful interests is journalism. Open information and transparency are crucial to free speech: the more we know, the freer we become. Spiked has also called for schools, universities and governments to be “cleansed” of “the malign influence” of green NGOs, which it denounces as “the environmentalist enemy within.” Some friends of free speech, these.

The Kochs are mentioned in several Spiked articles, but no corresponding interests are declared. An article in 2016, when Spiked received $170,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation, attacked the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, in which the Koch brothers have a major interest.

Is this the extent of the Koch brothers’ funding of groups based in the UK? Who knows? I have not yet had a response from the Charles Koch Foundation. But I see these payments as part of a wider pattern of undisclosed funding. Democracy without transparency is not democracy.



If I was a younger man I would be very active in trying to stop this threat to our open society.

But I am not!

All I can do is to republish this insightful essay by George Monbiot and hope that a few of you didn’t realise this thing was going on, and are concerned!

33 thoughts on “Dark money.

  1. An excellent article Paul! Funnily enough at our recent Conversations meeting at the seniors organisation U3A, here in Port Sorell, Tasmania, we were discussing the Koch Brothers and the damage to democracy and the environment that they have been inflicting for some 40 years. (and others like them, like former Australian Rupert Murdoch). So at least it’s good to know that their infamy is spreading worldwide.
    Now if only people, politicians and institutions would stop taking their money!


    1. I have this one hope, Margaret, that the spread of the Internet will in time make it impossible for the Koch brothers and their ilk to carry on. Because there will be millions of everyday people who will spread the word and say ‘No’. Shame because that is what we expect our Governments to do!


  2. Yes, Paul, anyone with eyes open have observed the degradation of Democracy in this country for decades now. Taking our liberties for granted has resulted in an inattentiveness that brings to mind the Wizard of Oz. All these distractions while the man behind the curtain is running the show for the benefit of special interest groups like the NRA, PACs, big banks and the uber rich. Other countries enamored of our Constitution ought to realize by now that we’ve strayed far from its guiding principles, which we would do well to demand a return to before it’s too late. Which can only begin at the grassroots level. Aloha


  3. The veil has been pulled aside. Unfortunately we suffer as their deeds and those of others … including the greedy who take their money …. still continue. I agree — we need to root out the money and ensure that Congress is not on the take and that ALL politicians are completely transparent.


    1. Dear Stacey, I totally agree! The only thing that can be said is that it isn’t going to go much longer. Planet Earth will have its say and it will not be pretty!


  4. It is rife in all political circles in one form or another Paul, and when you look into deceptions, corruptions, and corporations, you open up a whole Pandora’s box of trickery…
    The Elite are the elite at their game plays..


  5. Sadly, greed rules … and as long as that is true, then money will talk. I do not believe that “everybody has their price”. I do believe that integrity in its broadest sense does still exist in our society, but we are on the proverbial ‘slippery slope’ unless something changes. I think of myself as a pretty positive person, but the reality of our world from my perspective is not good. Will some idiot flaunt an over-inflated ego and trigger a nuclear holocaust? Will continual experimentation with the food chain eventually kill us? What will happen when the millions of tons of nuclear waste dumped (since the 1940s) in the Atlantic in steel drums, escapes as the drums corrode? Ever wondered why far more money seems to be put into researching cancer treatment, than is put into research into the cause? Is it really negative to conclude that cancer treatment is a huge business, so why risk eliminating the cause?
    It always comes back to money, and the resulting power. Trump is so proud of his tax dodges, but his supporters don’t seem to grasp the concept that government services being provided are directly related to taxes received.
    I am sounding like my late grandmother (who lived through two world wars), and my late father but then… we haven’t made much (if any) progress in past 100 years in the humane aspects of our society have we?


  6. The Koch Brothers, The Rockafellas and other Billionaires control much of what happens on the planet, especially behind closed doors. They answer to no one, not even governments. We will never know the true extent of their manipulation of world events but it is never for the benevolence of people as a whole. They are always willing to toss out cookies or bombs to manipulate people to their own ends. This is the problem with our civilisation and has been the downfall of prior civilisations. We are facing collapse for a lot of reasons, and it is my feeling that it has to be… We have just gone too far into the Abyss to stop ourselves from falling.


    1. It is a dismal picture but I fear an accurate one. I was born in London just six months before the end of WWII. I wonder if I will die in the early days of WWIII, or its equivalent?


      1. I think you think far too much about death. 😊

        There is so much to concentrate that is bad and it will do us no good to worry so much when we can do so little to stop it. Historically speaking the lack of love in the world is our biggest threat.

        You and Jean should just focus on loving each other and your family… And your anipals. There is wisdom in not feeding into the fear, especially as we have more than enough of it.

        Those that do bad, will continue regardless. All we can do is to try to stay ahead of it and love as much as we can.
        Don’t worry about war. Go hug your trees. 🌳🌲🤗❤️


      2. Not sure that I agree with “Those that do bad, will continue regardless.” I find that a rather “head in sand” approach. It takes two to tango, and so anybody with money to influence others, must have others who need the money otherwise nothing happens. Either party can change. A financial collapse? A political change? Anarchy? Pressure from the populace (it will be interesting to see how France resolves its current problems). A geographical catastrophe?
        I think we should acknowledge the reality that two or more egomaniacs can start a war, but also believe that, like many movies, good will win over bad in the end. Perhaps Faith still has a place in our species?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. With the apparent splintering of our society, aggravated by nationalistic and self serving political rhetoric, I would suggest that unrest within the general public is going to grow, with a corresponding increase in racial, cultural, sexist and other stereotyping ultimately resulting in violence.
        Apparently one guaranteed way to bring any group of people together, is to threaten them as a group. Suddenly all differences are forgotten and a concerted survival strategy is developed. Perhaps the current unrest in France will spread and force governments to act? Perhaps a war is inevitable, which will draw people together again? To be totally honest, I am rather embarrassed to acknowledge that I am of the same species as the some political figures today.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Me too… I don’t stick my head in the sand, Colin. I am fully aware of what is going on and I actually approve of ordinary people standing up together to demonstrate against the cruelties of life on all fronts. But we mustn’t make ourselves sick over it. We need to be loving and compassionate beings or we will be as bad as the forces that continue to trample over people. Unfortunately I see lots of polarisation and that inevitably leads to conflict which destroys us all.


      5. Totally agree. If we give in to the hypocrisy, immoral, unethical, self-serving (etc.) behavior of leaders,then we are in trouble. In our own individual ways, we must set examples of a compassionate society. To do nothing is tantamount to endorsing the status quo.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Colette and Colin, all I will add is that these are very uncertain times and trying to predict the future is incredibly difficult. Apart from climate change and that is incredibly urgent. I do like: “Historically speaking the lack of love in the world is our greatest threat.” Not sure what else to say!


    1. That pretty much says it all Paul. Those of us who believe in prayer ….should pray. Those who don’t … should appeal to whatever/whoever they believe in. All of us should lead by example.


  8. Well, I guess I must add that I thought there were a few places I could check in and enjoy good animals and good people and not have to listen to or read…yet again…the same tired cliches about how the world if falling apart, greed rules, the Koch Brothers, yadda yadda… I see why you hesitated to publish this piece…I for one am sorry you did… In my lifetime, the world population has gone from UNDER 3 billion people, to over SEVEN BILLION people. Our beautiful planet cannot accommodate on any level, and we are experiencing the results on every level….but if y’all think the ‘far right’ is causing all the problems, think again…


    1. Glenda, I make no apologies for republishing this essay by George Monbiot. This is a blog about integrity, in the main, and both George, and Tom Engelhardt, have given me blanket permission to republish their material.

      The fact that there have been so many comments seems to me to endorse that decision to republish the essay.

      But it is a fact that the smallest percentage of that seven billion control the majority of the wealth. It is neither a right or a left in politics but a fact.

      However, you voice very real concerns about population growth and climate change and all the stresses and strains that this places upon the only place we can call home.

      I hope very much to keep you as a subscriber to Learning from Dogs. I am sorry that I upset you.


    2. Oh, Glenda! Your statement saying “and not have to listen to or read… Yet again… the same tired clichés about how the world is falling apart, the Koch Brothers, yadda, yadda…” is so telling. That we even think of the problems facing humanity as ‘clichés’ is alarming to me.

      Yes, I do like the good stuff too, but that doesn’t entirely negate the bad stuff out in the world. I don’t believe that one political position (left or right) is responsible for the mess we are in globally. But we cannot demean anyone who brings it out to show us what we (each and every one of us) has done to our living planet with our misguided attempts at providing ourselves with a good life at the expense of others.

      I encourage you to look at this Youtube talk from Bioneers (and no, it will not depress you, but it may motivate you to think slightly differently).


      Please don’t shoot Paul down. He is only a messenger. And I think we need to hear these messages and not close off to them, no matter how much we might want to run away from their implications. ❤️🌿


      1. Well presented Collette. Based on my understanding of what a “cliche” is, I would suggest that it is a matter of perspective. I don’t believe that writings about our worldly problems are “cliches” at all, but rather re-affirmations that they do exist. Sadly, constant re-affirmations are necessary.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Never think that you should apologise for a post Paul. Your compassion and conciousness for an equitable world for humans and animals alike, leads you to the stories that you share here. It is out of a sense of wanting to warn others of the dangers out there, that you do so. There will always be people who do not want to hear the message. And we can only hope that one day, they may see that differently and change their mind. The stories change, and we need the story tellers, otherwise we learn nothing.


  9. Allow me, good people, just a couple more thoughts. I am so aware of our global issues, equal measures of pleasure and pain, on a good day. You Mr Paul are one of the VERY good guys. I admire and respect your contributions, your blog…just wonderful, just about ALL the time I’ve checked in! Guess I was caught on a particularly introspective morning, and one of my often favorite morning reads intruded upon my morning sanctuary with an article I can find most anywhere….my fault for having read it, I could have bypassed…that’s all, no more no less. Of course I will continue to check in frequently…you’re from ‘home’!. I now know better than to read Mr Monbiot….😉🐾🕊


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