The New Yorker writer and columnist Jane Mayer is possibly the country's leading investigative political journalist. One of her many areas of expertise is the role of "dark money" in our politics, the massive spending by people and organizations that want to help shape the direction of our country but prefer to hide their existence and motives from the American people. As the author of the self-describing book Dark Money, Mayer earned recognition in 2016 for getting as close as possible (as the New York Times Book Review put it) to exposing and explaining the Byzantine and mysterious conservative juggernaut of Charles. and David Koch came up with the aim of integrating right-wing, industry-friendly, anti-government conservatives into our government and courts, thereby enriching the enormous wealth of the Kochs.
Mayer's investigative talent is no less evident in her latest article published in the New Yorker. Mayer's article, titled The Big Money Behind the Big Lie, examines the right-wing machinery – some known, others revamped and camouflaged – which, by cynically imposing the Big Lie on the American public, has been overshadowed and waiting to profit from it.
Although the Arizona exam may seem like the product of local extremists, it was fed by sophisticated, well-funded national organizations whose boards include some of the wealthiest and most distinguished conservatives in the country. Dark money organizations run by clandestine funders have tirelessly spread the myth that American elections are fraught with fraud, and according to leaked records of their internal deliberations, they have drafted, endorsed, and in some cases recognized state laws that make voting difficult.
One of the main sources of funding for Big Lie was the Heritage Foundation, a longtime right-wing, billionaire-funded think tank primarily dedicated to promoting "free enterprise, restricted government, and individual freedom" by lowering tax and regulatory restrictions on the wealthiest individuals and businesses in the country. In particular, Heritage funds and promotes propaganda to deny, skew, and misrepresent research into climate change when the outcome of such research implies the fate and prospects of the fossil fuel industry, as it often does.
Taking up Trump's big lie and seeing an unprecedented opportunity to achieve those goals, the Heritage Foundation is now one of the main culprits in ongoing national and statewide efforts to disenfranchise black Americans and other democratic constituencies who pose a threat to the rights their continued increase in profits.
As Mayer's research shows:
One of the leaders of the movement is the Heritage Foundation, the prominent conservative think tank in Washington, DC, new election restrictions.
As noted in this report by the Boston public broadcaster WBUR, the Heritage Foundation's sister organization, Heritage Action, is the heritage unit's political arm, charged with enforcing its policies through law. Mother Jones reporter Ari Berman, interviewed by WBUR in January, described Heritage Action's involvement in popularizing Trump's big lie of electoral fraud:
(I) t is an intensification of an existing strategy. And it's unique in the sense that we just had a situation where Donald Trump was trying to overturn the election. And now there is a record number of bills following this attempt to overturn the election. And Heritage Action is at the forefront when it comes to turning this big lie into a weapon. And the way these election integrity measures have been portrayed by their supporters in places like Georgia and Texas is that they only respond to their voters' concerns about the election.
As always when huge amounts of dark money are being used for conservative ends, Mayer's research reveals a number of right-wing foundations and organizations that collectively advance Trump's great lie of imaginary electoral fraud in government-led efforts, with their actual funding sources rather distant from what the public is led to believe. Their relationship with the current attempts by GOP legislatures to restrict access to ballot papers, impose onerous ID requirements, and deprive election officials of the power to confirm election results are the result of years of efforts by the Republican Party and its donor base to increase the size of the the American electorate in the face of demographic change that rejects GOP policies.
However, it was not until the 2020 elections that these efforts were openly promoted by an American president. This provided an unprecedented opportunity for the Republican donor base to legitimize these repressive measures in the eyes of much of the American electorate, carefully prepared by Donald Trump to accept them as necessary, even crucial. To these groups it was completely indifferent that the means by which they tried to deprive Americans of the right to vote would undermine traditional concepts of American democracy. And it meant even less that those efforts would ultimately lead to the repeal of legitimate elections.
The fraudulent and trumped-up "test" still pending in Arizona, for example, to cast doubt on the integrity of that state's electoral process among Republican voters, was recognized as a locally inspired effort under the auspices of the state's GOP Senate majority but much of the funding for the people who actually take the exam (a group called Cyber Ninjas owned by conspiratorial right wing Doug Logan) comes from a multimillionaire named Patrick Byrne, founder of internet retailer Overstock.com . Byrne, an extreme pro-Trump conspiracy theorist, is one of the new faces to support GOP-led attacks on the vote. others, as Mayer's article shows, simply reconstituted themselves from organizations that had existed for decades.
As Mayer points out, many of the groups that fund the coordinated federal effort to pass voter suppression laws are funded by established organizations such as FreedomWorks (an astronomical effort organization that led to the Tea Party protests in President Obama's first term). as well as the newly established "Election Integrity Project", which is based in California and can be traced back to the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation:
The Milwaukee-based private, tax-exempt organization has grown to be an extraordinary force in convincing mainstream Republicans to support radical challenges to electoral rules – a tactic that was once relegated to the extreme right. With a foundation capital of around eight hundred and fifty million dollars, the foundation finances a network of groups, some of which have been stirring up fear of electoral fraud for years. Public records indicate that the foundation has spent approximately $ 18 million since 2012 to support eleven conservative groups engaged in electoral matters.
As Mayer points out, almost all of these organizations follow the classic pattern of right-wing "dark money" sources – they invariably rely on the generosity and commitment of reactionary, ultra-rich financiers who cannot bother the dirty business of democratic elections for their initial impetus . They are essentially dependent on people to whom the democratic origin of this country is less important than on their own ability to benefit from the privilege of living here. And they all have a stable of ultra-fanatical, morally compromised lawyers ready to file onerous lawsuits in hopes of ending up on the files of a corrupt judge appointed by the federal society.
Mayer quotes Jonathan Rauch, who characterized what is happening with the suppression of voters as "epistemic warfare of some Americans against other Americans". She also quotes Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (whose presentation should be required during Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearings in the US Supreme Court for those who wish to understand the role of dark money in our politics). As Whitehouse put it, “It is a massive covert operation carried out by a small group of billionaire elites. These are powerful interests with practically unlimited resources that have gone on to manipulate the most precious of all American gifts – the voice. "
What Mayer shows most clearly is that all of these legislative maneuvers and false "audit" circuses to disenfranchise Americans originated in organizations funded by those who have a legitimate financial interest in voting ordinary Americans suppress. And that fact helps explain why Republicans at both state and national levels have so quickly and willingly adopted and parroted the Big Lie: These organizations are funded by the exact same individuals and companies who pay for their campaigns.
In other words, for Republicans elected who accepted the big lie that Trump actually won, and the vote to overturn the Electoral College results was not action taken out of belief that the 2020 elections were tainted, but out the practical need to keep their own offices. A vote to overthrow democracy meant that their campaign jets remained on. What the billionaires who fund this effort have done is to use Donald Trump's rhetoric as a weapon to encourage their underlings in the government to adopt measures of electoral repression and put in place procedures to allow elections to be overturned who go in the "wrong way". Republican elected officials have been all too willing to do so, even if it means destroying American democracy.
And they have a natural base of support in a Republican electorate that is constantly fueled by racial and class grievances. These types of voters are willingly prepared to accept any slander or imaginary actions attributed to people they do not consider legitimate Americans. Mayer quotes Michael Podhorzer, a political advisor to the AFL-CIO:
“What the blue state people don't understand why the Big Lie works,” he said, is that it doesn't require evidence of fraud to work. "What drives him is the belief that Biden won because some people in this country cast votes that others think aren't 'real' Americans." Strengthened right: "white evangelical churches, lawmakers, media companies, nonprofits and even now paramilitary groups".
The election of Donald Trump gave the reactionary billionaires behind these organizations a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fulfill all of their anti-regulation and anti-tax dreams. But Trump's shameful defeat in 2020 opened up an even bigger, completely unexpected opportunity for them: to finally get rid of democracy in this country entirely, or at least keep it in their own hands for as long as possible and work for their own interests.
No doubt they see what they are doing as the fulfillment of their own personal American dream, even if for the rest of us it will destroy democracy. For these people it is a distinction without a distinction.