The other day I saw “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” which I thoroughly enjoyed. In it, the wizard Gandalf laments the growth of the “Power of the Shadow” and how the forces of good had been blind to its resurgence. That same week, Organizing for Action (President Obama’s political army) tweeted “On one side: Shadowy groups spending millions to obscure the facts.” I realized there was a connection between the two. OFA is right, the power of shadowy groups grows, and dark money spreads across our body politic. Yet many have been blind to the destructive power these groups and their secretive donors wield, just as the forces of good are blind in The Hobbit.
A cabal of 1 percenters, billionaires who use the levers of power to enact their own agenda, funds much of the “Power of the Shadow.” The wealthy use innocuous sounding front groups, foundations that don’t reveal the source of their funding and pass-through organizations to obscure their plans, hide their power and attempt to fool middle class, working Americans into supporting polices that protect the powerful at the expense of the people.
The billionaire bullies who fund these groups hide their trail, but a few researchers have delved deep into campaign finance reports and IRS filings to report on their machinations. It’s time to reveal their findings and put a spotlight on the inner workings of the elite.
A leading member is San Francisco’s own progressive-liberal billionaire Tom Steyer. Steyer made his money the old-fashioned way, as a hedge fund manager using financial manipulations unavailable to middle class investors. While Occupy protesters marched naked in San Francisco’s streets, Steyer was busy behind the scenes trying to bend public policy to his will. He poured almost $22 million into Proposition 39, a measure sold to voters as a feel-good program, but in reality, it raises taxes by $1 billion a year on California businesses.
He then turned his eye to the Senate race in Massachusetts. There, according to the Los Angeles Times, his intervention and bullying in the Democratic primary enraged local voters to the point that his preferred candidate had to tell him to “back off.” Not satisfied with meddling in Massachusetts, the billionaire funded an $8 million “independent expenditure” in the Virginia governor’s race on behalf of the corrupt crony-capitalist Terry McAuliffe.
Steyer’s secretive political operation is now going after the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that will generate thousands of high-paying jobs, help close the income gap and keep oil off collision prone trains. But, follow the money. Steyer’s former hedge fund, Farallon Capital Management, is heavily invested in Kinder Morgan, the giant oil and gas pipeline firm that owns the TransMoutain pipeline, a competitor to Keystone XL. According to Forbes magazine, killing Keystone XL will allow Kinder Morgan to reap windfall profits. Not a bad day’s work for a billionaire bully.
Another of the shadowy cabal is the Hungarian-born George Soros. Soros has made a career out of funding innocuous sounding, interlocking political front groups funded through foundations and other organizations that do not reveal their sources of income. In 2004, he along with billionaire buddy Peter Lewis (now deceased) donated almost $40 million to defeat George W. Bush.
However, that spending is only a part of Soros’ attempts to control American politics. He and his Open Society Institute, as documented by DiscoverTheNetwork.org, have funded literally hundreds of interlocking and networked groups that then go on to fund “coalitions” that obscure Soros as the ultimate source of their millions in dark money.
One of the most egregious efforts of Soros and other 1 percenters was an attempt to wrest control of American elections through the bland sounding Secretary of State Project. In reality, this was an attempt to elect and influence secretaries of state — who just happen to control vote counting — who would bend to Soros’ will. As Joseph Stalin pointed out, “The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.” Thankfully, the project is shuttered, but not before propelling to power several secretaries of state, including in Ohio and Minnesota, where well-documented vote counting irregularities have subsequently taken place.
There is more to the secretive “Power of the Shadow” dark money that infects our land. Both Democracy Alliance (co-founded by Soros) and the Tides Foundation solicit millions in secret donations that flow in an unseen river from millionaires and billionaires to progressive-liberal groups across the country.
The people may not have a hero hobbit on our side who can help fight off the attempts to take control of our government and our lives. Nevertheless, we do have the power to name Steyer, Soros, Democracy Alliance and the Tides Foundation for what they are, and to bring their secretive activities into the light of day. After all, sunlight is the best disinfectant.
John McDowell is a longtime county resident having first moved to San Carlos in 1963. In the intervening years, he has worked as a political volunteer and staff member in local, state and federal government, including time spent as a press secretary on Capitol Hill and in the second Bush administration.