• The Disney™ story of Scrooge McDuck has inspired a generation of what life could be if one bought the assertions of "cleverness, hard work, and ingenuity" alone are what it takes to become ultra-wealthy...

    Billionaire class

    Aspiring to become wealthy should not be a game of amassing the most numbers in one’s bank account(s). Nor should it be about the singular goal of building some “status trophy.” It should not be a means of control or power. Rather, it should only be for the pursuit of options to live life as one would wish.

    Regardless of what that pursuit could be, it should not be at the exploitation of the “average people” that made it possible to become wealthy. Similar to the Robber Barons of the 19th century, we have yet again a new generation of ultra-wealthy families and individuals that could never spend their entire wealth within 5 (or more) lifetimes.

    The end-goal should not be the wealth in-and-of itself. Rather accumulating some wealth should be a byproduct of a service to humanity or a product that enhances the livelihoods of those in your community.

    We have mountains of evidence that handing a small handful of essentially random people a large and disproportionate concentration of humanity’s entire wealth tends to make them:

    • act above the law
    • use their wealth to attack and generally bully others to get their way
    • exert disproportionate influence (relative to their actual insight or utility of their actions) on people’s lives, government, and society as a whole
    • choose other winners and losers in the market (this is not inherently good or bad, but when bad it is disproportionately bad)
    • decide what things the rest of humanity should pay more or less attention
    • consume exorbitantly in the face of still-existent human poverty, disease, security, environmental concerns, etc.
    • most directly: decide how and to whom that wealth will be distributed long after they’ve “earned” it, thus continuing a cycle of “haves” and “have nots”

    And so based on that evidence, all things being equal, having less concentration of wealth and more equity is better for society as a whole. (See: Friedman, Piketty, Smith, Keynes, George, et al)

    Whatever argument you may have about this or that billionaire, it should be easy to understand why we, as a society, should be exceptionally wary of the negative impacts of encouraging overly concentrated wealth versus the positive benefits of encouraging risk-taking and entrepreneurial reward.


    Rare is a billionaire that legitimately cares to contribute to society beyond padding their bank accounts, egos, and/or political whims. As we have seen time and again from billionaires like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, et al is that they love to spin their public works in a concerted effort to win our trust and favor.

    Unfortunately, few will bother to look just under the covers of their carefully crafted stories to see how much is fabricated for their public image. To be clear, I’m not saying that these billionaires have contributed nothing good to humanity. But the “sins of the past” are often deeper than any good works they offer in public.

    Having studied history, one would take note of how past oligarchs have worked to build a shining and whitewashed public image devoid of any imperfections — a legacy, if you will. Andrew Carnegie wrote “The Gospel of Wealth” as a guide for how the upper-class should employ philanthropy and that any surplus of money they had was best suited for re-circulation back into society.

    Political Spin

    Clever billionaires have learned the art of misdirection. In the case of Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, decided the best way to contribute to society is by donating his company to a non-profit “charity” (Holdfast Collective) and a perpetual business purpose trust that he setup for his family.

    Nevermind that Patagonia only promises a meager 1% of its sales profits to fund political climate initiatives. That’s just simple PR and cheap marketing. The slight of hand comes in the form of a letter claiming that:

    Yvon Chouinard

    Earth is now our only shareholder.

    If you read the FAQ on Patagonia’s website, you’ll find that Yvon is very much in control (indirectly) of the company. Only difference is that now he won’t be taxed for “donations” he directs the company to send to his “charity.” Nor will any of his family be responsible for paying any gift and death taxes for inheriting (via board positions) the Trust or the non-profit organization.

    The Patagonia Purpose Trust Yvon setup for his family gets all 2% of private stock with voting rights to approve company decisions. Naturally, Yvon will be behind the chair of the board that controls the trust. In his own words:

    Yvon Chouinard

    we couldn’t be sure a new owner would maintain our values or keep our team

    While Yvon is trying hard to sell the environmental angle on why he decided to “donate” the company, anyone willing to look beyond the clickbait titles and press releases (aka political spin) will see the plain truth. Like Warren Buffet, Mr. Chouinard is attempting to escape paying his share of taxes to society.

    Of course the paid media outlets will lap up the press releases with glowing articles saying:

    • “Billionaire No More: Patagonia Founder Gives Away the Company”
    • “Finally, a billionaire willing to smack back at capitalism”
    • “Patagonia founder gives away the company to help fight climate change”
    🎥 Why There's No Such Thing as a Good Billionaire | Video (20:28 minutes)

    In which I break down why billionaire “charity” is terrible for the planet, and why we should stop swallowing their myths.
    Support my work on Patreon: http://patreon.com/adamconover

    Patagonia, the company that makes overpriced vests for Tech Bros who pretend to be outdoorsy, got a metric fuckload of good headlines this month when their billionaire owner Yvon Chouinard announced that he was donating the entire company to fight climate change. Twitter exploded in Jubilation. The Washington Post said finally a billionaire willing to smack back at capitalism. Even the Beloved environmentalist Bill McKibben said if every company was as decent as Patagonia the world would work better and people would be cozy all winter.

    Now this is a wonderful story I would love to believe that there’s a good billionaire out there looking out for the planet from atop his pile of money… but you can feel what’s coming, can’t you? I mean I wouldn’t be making this video If there weren’t a darker truth to expose. Am I really going to do this? Am I actually gonna disagree with Patagonia the media and Bill McKibben - a man I deeply respect and admire - and tell the world why this feel-good story is actually terrible! FUCK yeah, I Am!

    Not only was this donation designed to help Chouinard avoid billions of dollars in taxes… The fact that it’s even possible for a billionaire to pull this maneuver is an unmitigated disaster for the planet and for our democracy!! And when we swallow PR like this, we are literally falling for the oldest billionaire bullshit in the book. Now a lot of people found this story believable including me, at first. Because it fits Chouinard’s carefully cultivated public-image. He has been described for years as “The Reluctant billionaire” — a frugal rock climber who just loved making gear for his friends, then tripped and accidentally started a three billion dollar company. People tell stories about Chouinard eating cans of cat food to save money and he famously still drives a Subaru instead of a fancy car. The dude supposedly doesn’t even own a cell phone which is maybe why he doesn’t know that human food is just as cheap as cat food… You weren’t saving money Yvon, you were just being weird! And as far as corporations go, Patagonia does have a solid environmental record — they’ve donated over $140 million dollars to a huge number of organizations promoting everything from: land conservation; to biodiversity; to sustainable agriculture; to the end of fossil fuels. Now Chouinard said that he wanted the company’s commitment to the planet to continue after his death. So instead of selling the company to some corner-cutting capitalist who would start powering the fleece vest factories with coal — and I don’t know, cancel the Batgirl movie — again he decided to donate all of his stock to a non-profit organization with a mission of helping the planet.

    In a New York Times piece, so glowing it might as well have been written by his publicist, Chouinard said that hopefully this donation will influence a new form of capitalism that doesn’t end with a few rich people and a whole bunch of poor people. And his own accountant said that he’ll receive no tax benefit for his donation whatsoever… but if you want the straight story about a Billionaire’s finances, it might make sense to ask someone other than the guy who cooks the books for him. The truth is: if Chouinard really just wanted to make sure that Patagonia’s value stayed intact, he didn’t need to donate it to a non-profit. He could have just given all $3 billion dollars worth of shares to his kids. They could have kept running the company according to Daddy’s dearest wishes and lovingly rapped about him at corporate board meetings. So why didn’t he do that? Simple, he would have had to
    pay $1.2 billion dollars in gift taxes and Yvon is a good billionaire. So, he doesn’t like paying taxes. I mean why should he have to pay for the roads his products are transported on? The schools
    and universities his workers are educated at? The GPS system that he uses to track his shipments and the government research into heart attacks and cancer that have kept him alive until the ripe old age of 83? I mean, he’s self-made… right? He did it all by himself! Now, I know what you’re thinking:
    “Adam, he didn’t pay taxes because he did something better… he donated it to charity.”

    Well let’s take a look at how charitable that donation actually was… 98% of the shares donated were given to a brand new environmental non-profit he formed called The Holdfast Collective. Kind of a weird name… Sort of sounds like a mid-2000s Brooklyn Indie band but more about that in a second. The other 2% though, were Chouinard’s voting shares. These are the shares that let you actually control what the company does. And, these shares were given to something called the Patagonia Purpose Trust. Which is solely controlled by Chouinard and his family. What this means is that even though all the headlines said Chouinard was donating the company to charity. He and his family will continue to control Patagonia forever.

    You know, I didn’t know that was how donations worked. When I donate my car to 1-877-KARS 4 Kids, I can’t show up the next weekend and take it for a joy ride… But Yvon and his family can now. The family did have to pay about $17 million dollars in gift taxes to execute this maneuver, but don’t forget they already saved $1.2 billion dollars by donating the other 98% to charity. So they came out roughly 1.2 billion dollars ahead! That shit is not even a rounding error. So what about that other 98% and who exactly is The Holdfast Collective? Well, they’re actually pretty mysterious. They don’t even have a website! And when you Google them, you just find a bunch of Reddit threads of people asking “what the hell is The Holdfast Collective,” but what we do know from The New York Times is that The Holdfast Collective will receive roughly a $100 million dollars a year in profit from Patagonia and that they plan to use that money to influence the U.S political system.

    See regular nonprofits are what’s called 501( c)(3). 501( c)(3)s are required to use the money for charitable purposes and are barred from making political contributions. But The HoldFast Collective is a 501( c)(4) and that means it’s allowed to use that money to donate to politicians’ Super Pacs and even to conduct direct political campaigning. And since it’s safe to assume that The Holdfast Collective is going to be basically run by the Chouinard family — considering they founded it — and control its money supply. That means Yvon was able to take his three billion dollar company and turn it into a three billion dollar political influence machine tax free! He didn’t pay capital gains tax on the growth of the company. He didn’t pay the income tax that I would have to pay before I donate to my favorite 501( c)(4) and he definitely didn’t pay the gift taxes you normally have to pay. If you want to give $3 billion dollars in money and political influence to your kids… That’s
    right, Patagonia made the jackets, but it was the rest of us who got fleeced! That’s a Patagonia pun. Let’s be clear: Because of their control of Patagonia and Holdfast, Chouinard’s descendants are going to wield massive political power for their entire lives. They’re going to be invited to meetings with powerful elected leaders. They’ll be flown around the world to conferences. They’ll be lauded as great philanthropists until the day they die when their kids will take over as money-bags-in-chief. Chouinard has turned his money into permanent political power for him and his descendants. And I do not think he should get a tax break for doing it.

    And look, I’ll grant Chouinard’s good intentions here. I think that in addition to wanting to save money on his taxes, he and his family are motivated by a sincere desire to help the planet. And I think their donation taken in isolation will do that, but we can’t take it in isolation because Chouinard is not the only billionaire pulling this move. And the other billionaires are a lot less cuddly than Mr Puffer Vest for the planet.

    Let’s talk about a different billionaire named Barre Seid the wonderful investigative journalism outfit Propublica did an expose this year on Seid when he pulled the exact same move as Yvon. He donated his entire Fortune to charity but Twitter in the New York Times didn’t throw a party in Barry’s honor. Why? because the charity he donated to was run by Leonard Leo — the right-wing activist who spent the last couple decades stacking the Supreme Court with radical conservatives. You know the same conservatives who recently overturned Roe v Wade and banned the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. Cheering on Chouinard’s abuse of the system just because you agree with his cause doesn’t make sense. It’s like cheering for a baseball player who does steroids. Sure, it’s nice when he hits a home run for your team but when all the other teams are doing it too, you get your ass kicked and it kind of fucks the game up. It’s also… how to put this… the opposite of democracy!

    See everyone sees the world differently. And everyone has different needs and that means that no one person has all the answers. So the central insight of democracy is that we need to spread power widely and diversely among many different types of people if we want to solve our biggest problems. But billionaires like Chouinard are doing the opposite. He’s hoarding power even if he feels that he’s using it for good. But why should the owner of a fancy clothing company get to decide what’s good or not? Why don’t we all decide it, together? You know, maybe the billionaires could kick in their fair share to a communal pool of money we all contribute to and then we could vote on what to spend it on. I don’t know… just a crazy idea I found on this dusty old scroll… But no, instead, our system allows a few wealthy people to amass disgusting amounts of wealth and then gives them a tax break when they use it to influence our political system. And that is no way to run a society.

    Democracy only works when everybody has a voice. So instead of applauding Chouinard, we do a lot better to take that power back for ourselves. Now I think that argument is pretty
    straightforward. Open and shut. Video could end right there. Except that when I posted about this on Twitter I was deluged with hate from angry billionaire fans. And I started to realize that something deeper is going on here. I mean people really love this cat food eating Subaru driving humble billionaire who cares… and they get very mad at you if you criticize him I mean he’s got a great brand and people love it. I love it too. I love my Patagonia jacket when I wear it. I feel like I’m in that Wes Anderson movie where Bill Murray is sad in the 60s… no not that one… the other one… no, not that one… the other one… no, not that one the other. That’s the one. Thank you all. Right there’s three more though…

    But here’s the problem that story. That brand isn’t real — it’s PR. It’s marketing. It’s spin baby! Let me tell you about a little place called Bentonville, Arkansas. So a few weeks back I was booked to MC an event at Crystal Bridges Art Museum in Bentonville. A beautiful small town in northwestern Arkansas that also happens to be the home of one of the most lavish and expensive art museums in America. Why there? Well a clue might be in the name you see emblazoned all over town: Walmart. Sam Walton opened the first Walmart store in Bentonville in 1962. And now that is the largest retailer in the world. Yes larger than Amazon. Its headquarters are still in Bentonville. Sam Walton is now dead, but his kids — the 11th, 12th, and 13th richest people in America have poured money into the town. They’ve built miles of bike trails all around the surrounding area. They’ve preserved the beautiful historic town square and they’ve built a $200 million dollar Art Museum but that’s not the only Museum I visited in Bentonville that weekend. Housed in a replica of an old-fashioned Five and Dime Store is the Walmart Museum. A monument to Sam Walton’s humility and humble decency. They have an exact replica of his shabby home office. Which actually like brought a tear to my eye because it reminded me so strongly of my own grandfather’s office when I was a kid. And according to this Museum, Sam hated money so much that he drove a beat up old truck. And to prove it, they put the beat up old truck in the museum. Holy shit! Wwap the pickup for a Subaru and this could be the Patagonia Museum.

    Now there’s something a little perverse in building an entire Museum to tell people how humble and thrifty you are, but it works. People in this town love The Waltons. And when I struck up a conversation with them, they talked about The Waltons like they were family. Because of The Waltons investment, the population of Bentonville has sextupled. Property values have skyrocketed. Oh and don’t forget the world-class Art Museum they built in town where Bentonville residents can chill out and look at a Rothko; listen to an artist of color give a talk; or visit one of Yayoi Kusama’s famous Infinity rooms. When I was waiting in line for this exhibit I overheard two teenagers talking about how they had never been to an art museum before. And hearing that. you know, made my heart swell up… like this is a part of the country that has been left out of cultural investment for a century. And The Waltons are changing that. That is unequivocally a good thing, but there’s also a deep irony in Bentonville that makes visiting it almost creepy. Because even though the Waltons have preserved this perfect American small town, they only had the money to do so because they have destroyed the downtowns of so many other cities in America.

    According to a 2008 study from MIT, Walmart was responsible for 40 to 50 percent of the decline in small discount stores like the ones their Museum was built to resemble. Other researchers found that when Walmart comes to town, it correlates with increased obesity, higher crime rates, and lower overall employment in that area. And this proves that the narrative Sam Walton spun about himself that he never cared about money, he was just a humble guy who loved giving back… well it was bullshit.

    There are no accidental billionaires. The only way to make that kind of money is on purpose. This dude devoted his life to building the biggest most profitable company he could and then he used that money to tell a sweet and cuddly story about himself to distract from all the evil shit he did. And even though I don’t think the average Patagonia wearer is a big fan of Walmart, it bears pointing out how closely the story Chouinard tells about himself resembles Waltons — “The Reluctant” billionaire rock climber who doesn’t care about money, drives a beat up old car, and loves giving back is a great
    story… but it’s also marketing! And Chouinard tells it because it benefits him and Patagonia to do so. I mean, how many made-in-Vietnam puffer vests have they sold over the years because somebody looked at them and said: “hey, he’s the good billionaire… I’m gonna help him save the planet…” Hell, if you go to patagonia.com right now, they are using that story to sell you more overpriced crap. But look, none of this is new.

    The truth is that billionaires have been telling this story about themselves since the first proto-capitalist took his first quivering steps out of the money swamp. Let’s do a quick review of
    the billionaire bullshit Hall of Fame:

    • Mark Zuckerberg got incredible headlines when he said he was donating his fortune to charity in 2015. Then it turned out the charity was just an LLC he controls that invests in for-profit businesses.
    • For years, people have described Bill Gates as saving the world. He even made his own Netflix documentary about what a generous genius he is… Of course that’s before we learned he’s a serial sexual harasser who became best buddies with Jeffrey Epstein (after he was convicted of sex crimes)… Bill was like, oh this dude’s a sex offender… well, what’s he doing Thursday?
    • And finally Warren Buffett: a man who decades of PR have described as so saintly frugal, that websites post listicles about how you can live as cheaply as him… with tips like eat a cheap breakfast. Yeah, I’m pretty sure if I ate Egg McMuffins all day, it wouldn’t make me a billionaire… I’d just have a heart attack! I mean this article literally says that Warren Buffett Clips coupons! NO he fucking doesn’t! Are you trying to tell me that Warren fucking Buffett gets up on a Tuesday, goes and gets the newspaper off his porch, takes out the advertising section, and a pair of scissors and says: “oh look Skippy is on sale!”
      FUCK YOU! How gullible do you think we are? You know how Warren really saves money? By not paying his taxes! When Propublica got a leak of billionaire tax returns, Buffett was found to pay the least of any of his fellow plutocrats. Dude made $24 billion dollars between 2014 and 2018 and paid a true tax rate of 0.10%! Even greedy little piggies like Bezos and Musk can’t touch that. Instead of paying the public the money he owes us, Buffett has famously pledged to give away his money to charity. Which charity you might ask? Oh just the one his buddy Bill runs with the ex-wife he cheated on. Wow, billionaires donating to billionaires brings a tear to your eye doesn’t it? Now if all of this weren’t enough for you, it becomes piercingly clear that the entire concept of billionaire charity already is bullshit.

    When you look at where it originated in the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, the OG evil monopolist Andrew Carnegie wrote an essay called “The Gospel of Wealth” in which he famously argued that is the responsibility of the wealthy to give away their fortunes during their lifetimes. He even argued that as the duty of a rich man to set into an example of modest unostentatious living. Shunning display or extravagance. So Chouinard and Walton weren’t radicals by driving beat up old cars they were literally taking their instructions from Daddy Carnegie. Now critically, Carnegie argued for that kind of charity because he believed that the system that gave him such unimaginable wealth was a good thing and that it was inevitable. It was just the way of the universe. But even at the time in the late 19th century, Americans knew that this was bullshit. They knew that Carnegie’s wealth was the result of a broken system. And that it came at the expense of the customers he gouged, the workers he exploited, and the political system he dominated. A political system that insured workers had no right to organize no minimum wage and allowed plutocrats to hire thugs to beat the shit out of them whenever they asked for their fair share. Carnegie’s Gilded Age concealed a rot at the core of the economy and in the years after his death the country went through a little something called the Great Depression. Huh, turns out letting so much wealth accumulate in so few hands wasn’t a great idea. The New Deal that Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched in response was strongly influenced by progressive reformers who were alarmed at the excesses of Gilded Age plutocrats like Carnegie. Roosevelt introduced stronger labor protections, a minimum wage, strong Anti-Trust enforcement. So that monopolies couldn’t form and perhaps, most importantly, a high level of Taxation on the wealthy. And it worked! The labor movement flourished which led directly to the creation of the American middle class — average Americansm average white Americans anyway, weren’t able to make a living wage save for retirement and build wealth of their own. Wealthy people still existed and they were still able to make money but the age of Titanic billionaires running the country as their personal empires seemed to be over. If you’re trying to remember who the Mark Zuckerberg of the 1950s was… I’ll give you a hint: there wasn’t one, but over the following decades starting in the 70s and 80s, the policies that created this incredible level of prosperity started to be dismantled. Deregulation of the financial industry weakened Anti-Trust enforcement tax cuts. Welfare reduction and the gutting of the labor movement all contributed to skyrocketing inequality. Most people, average Americans, saw their wages stagnate or fall. But the rich did well and the very rich did very well and the obscenely rich did obscenely fucking well! And the result is that today the top 0.1 percent own nearly as much wealth as the bottom ninety percent. Today we are living in a new Gilded Age in which billionaires are allowed to amass massive wealth and then convert it into political power tax-free so they can run the country while everyone else suffers. And it’s an age in which we swallow the same tired myth over and over again — that these billionaires are humble, they don’t really like money, and that they’re Heroes for giving it away in ways that just happen to increase their own power… And the purpose of this myth, this lie, is to distract us from the fact that this system is bad for the planet and disastrous for our society!

    So no! I’m not going to applaud Chouinard for donating his money to the planet. Instead I think we need to demand policies that prevent guys like him from amassing so much money to begin with! And that put power back in the hands of the people where it belongs. And I promise if we do that, and we can do it because we have done it before, you can keep your jacket. Hell, you can get a few more jackets maybe you’ll even be able to afford an actual trip to Patagonia instead of wearing it on a logo you bought at the mall…

    Hey guys this is the first YouTube video I’ve done like this. I want to thank Sam Rodman and Brian Franz. You helped me write it.

    If you enjoyed it I believe the parlance: is smash that “like button,” hit subscribe, leave me a comment if you enjoyed it. If you really enjoyed it you can support me on patreon.com

    Adam Conover, thanks so much for watching. See you next time.

    What good is a billionaire?

    There appears to be common misconception that billionaires are wealthy because they are smart and generous. These “job creators” are often praised for exploiting workers beyond what is reasonable. The snarky responses include:

    • If they didn’t build products you “couldn’t live without,” your life would be that much poorer for it.
    • Once your product turns out to be something people just can’t live without, then you will have millions or even billions yourself.
    • It takes money to make money. We need the moneyed-class to keep everything moving…
    • Entrepreneurs are heroes! Government is bad…

    The economic reality that, in the present, produces billionaires is a result of economic policies enacted during the Reagan administration, which still plague us to this day. Specifically, the ruinous notion of reducing taxes on the rich and the corporations in the belief that doing so would result in economic growth. Instead, what happened as a result of this four decades long exercise in economic ignorance, is that more wealth was simply handed over to those who were already rich, by taking it away from the rest of us.

    So from a practical point of view, the policies that made the accumulation of wealth so great — that it created the billionaire class — is directly responsible for the decline in the standard of living of the working-class. These policies also explain our crumbling infrastructure, deterioration in our public education system, the stagnation of working-class wages, all of which has had a 40+ years long negative impact on our society as a whole.

    Ha-Joon Chang - Faculty of Economics at University of Cambridge

    Once you realize that trickle-down economics does not work, you will see the excessive tax cuts for the rich as what they are — a simple upward redistribution of income, rather than a way to make all of us richer, as we were told.

    Not only do the upper-class continue to amass greater amounts of wealth, but they continue to do so in a collective effort to control the very government bodies that are supposed to regulate them. There is no bill in congress for which any billionaire disagrees that has a chance to be voted into law. This is because many of the politicians are beholden to them. The lobbying efforts of billionaires continue to plague the once great nation of the United States.

    Therefore, it would be perfectly valid to note that not only do billionaires do nothing to benefit the economy, their existence actually causes great harm to our country. Twenty-percent of American children live in poverty so that a few hundred people can have enormous wealth.

    Anand Giridharadas

    Goldman Sachs may complain about regulation… but actually everything they are able to do and trust… are able to have when someone picks up a phone and place a trade… is entirely based on these public systems. So these are people who benefit way more than average people from the regulatory infrastructure that we all pay for. And then they have the gall to turn around and malign that infrastructure that they so leverage and so use just in those moments when it’s “expensive” for them. It’s extremely ungrateful! And I think part of what I’m advocating people need to do is: to offer the plutocrats of the world (or of our countries) a deal. Here’s the cost of doing business in Canada by the United States of America. Here’s the tax rate. Here’s the minimum wage…

    Dark money

    Honoré de Balzac

    The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found, because it was properly executed.

    It’s often simplified as “behind every great fortune lies a crime“ (Le Père Goriot circa 1835) but the truth is when you’ve reached enough, you can buy your own history and let people believe in it.

    In the early 1970s, leaks and shoe-leather reporting by news organizations uncovered the Watergate scandal — the modern era’s foundational dark money exposé. That debacle birthed the original federal disclosure laws and a golden age of journalism. For a time, the new statutes allowed campaign finance reporting to become systematic, methodical and based on required disclosures, rather than sporadic, random and reliant on the goodwill of courageous whistleblowers.

    A half-century later, however, the dark money practices of 50 years past have again become normalized. In 2020 alone, more than $1 billion dollars worth of dark money flooded around weak disclosure rules and into America’s elections, financing Super Pacs, ad-blitzes, mailers and door-knocking campaigns. As millions of votes were swayed, reporters and the public had no knowledge of the money sources, or what policies they were buying.

    The Disclose Act, sponsored by the Democratic senator Sheldon Whitehouse, would force dark money groups to disclose any of their donors who give more than $10,000, require shell companies spending money on elections to disclose their owners, and mandate that election ads list their sponsors’ major contributors. These requirements would extend not only to election-related activity, but also to campaigns to influence governmental decisions – including judicial nominations.

    A separate Whitehouse bill would additionally require donor disclosure from shadowy groups lobbying the supreme court through amicus briefs designed to tilt judicial rulings without letting the public know which billionaire or CEO’s thumb is on the scale. And other pending legislation would finally allow the Securities and Exchange Commission to require major corporations to more fully disclose their political spending.

    Koch Brothers were notorious for funneling money into right-wing idealogy candidates

    Sadly, dark money is not a new concept to the United States. Unfortunately, thanks to our outdated laws, most funding are now hidden behind anonymity, shell companies and shadowy political groups. America is long overdue for an overhaul of its political disclosure laws – and news organizations in particular should be leading the charge for reform.

    Thanks to the case commonly referred to as Citizens United v. FEC, those with enough money have gained a much louder voice in policy decisions and election campaigning.


    The democratic experiment of the Americas has succumbed to the very factors it sought to escape centuries ago.
    As the noblesse oblige would prefer the common person to “have cake” rather than complain about their lots in life, the States will soon decide if tyranny against the ignorant is more palatable to freedom of reason.
    Sadly, as dark money has become so rampant thanks to persistent efforts on the right (since the 1970s) and more recent Citizens United, it’s hard to see how everyone could understand the damage already done to the once great democracy. So much vitriolic noise fired omnidirectional. People too busy trying to survive the day to have any time to think about politics — much less about the future…

    I fear the plutocrats have already won. The corporatocracy will soon provide its directions and the beholden politicians (aka boot-lickers) will follow orders.

    Louis Brandeis

    We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.


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