A forthcoming book by New Yorker writer Jane Mayer says that the father of the politically influential Koch Brothers helped build a refinery in Germany in the 1930s that was important to the Nazi war effort.
Mayer’s book, “Dark Money,” examines the role played by a handful of super-rich families in the evolution of the political right in the United States, from the Gilded Age of the last century to the Tea Party today. She describes the donor network assembled by the Kochs, which has committed to spend hundreds of millions this election year, as returning the country to an era when the super rich got their way by underwriting federal office-holders and their election campaigns. The recent spike in largely secret spending, she maintains, has had a profound effect on state and local as well as national politics, and helps explain the lack of progress in the United States in addressing problems such as global warming and income inequality.
Mayer was not granted an interview with David or Charles Koch and a spokesman for the family-owned company issued a terse statement recalling past disagreements. “We declined to participate in the book and have not read it,” Ken Spain, managing director of corporate communications, said in the statement. “If the content of the book is reflective of Ms. Mayer’s previous reporting of the Koch family, Koch Industries, or Charles’ and David’s political involvement, then we expect to have deep disagreements and strong objections to her interpretation of the facts and their sourcing.”
While describing the history of wealthy families dominating U.S. politics, Mayer’s book offers some stunning new details based on interviews and previously unpublished documents.
For example, Mayer writes that the family patriarch, Fred Koch, admired German discipline so much in the 1930s that he hired a fervent Nazi as a governess for his eldest boys. “Dark Money” suggests that the experience of being toilet trained by a Nazi may have contributed to Charles Koch’s antipathy toward government today.
It has long been known that Fred Koch made part of his early fortune working in Stalin’s Russia, which the elder Koch later said influenced his strong anti-communist views. Mayer, for the first time, describes the early effort to land a refinery construction deal that was ultimately blessed personally by Adolf Hitler. In 1934, Mayer reports, Fred Koch’s firm provided engineering plans and began overseeing construction of a massive oil refinery near Hamburg, which would become a component of the Nazi war machine, supplying fuel for German warplanes. When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Koch tried to enlist in the U.S. military, which would, in 1944, destroy the Hamburg refinery.
Other biographers have described the senior Koch encouraging competition among the boys, including encouraging boxing matches between twins William and David. Mayer provides new details about the sad state of the sibling relationship as adults. A 1982 sealed deposition from Bill Koch, for example, describes Charles and David attempting to blackmail their eldest brother, Frederick, by threatening to reveal his alleged homosexual preferences to their father unless Frederick turned over his shares in the family business. The fraternal hostility, she writes, led to lawsuits, acrimony and a propensity to hire private investigators to unearth dirt on sibling rivals — and other perceived enemies.
Other reporters have detailed the Koch’s massive interlocking network of nonprofit organizations that permits donors, to contribute funds secretly to influence politics. But Mayer goes beyond recent electoral ambitions of the Koch network describing Charles’ decades-old plan to build a political movement that would influence not only elections but debate in the public sphere, including course offerings at universities, think tanks and even high schools.
Some details of Mayer’s forthcoming book were first reported by the New York Times Monday night.
While the Kochs are the focus of the new book, separate chapters look at other mega donors on the right, including Harry and Lynde Bradley and John Olin. Mayer spends little time on the role of billionaire donors on the left or the impact of such outsized donations on Democrats. The focus of her reporting is on the elite libertarian conservative families — and her digging has yielded new insight and detail. For example, she obtained an unpublished autobiography of Richard Mellon Scaife, heir to the Pittsburgh industrial and banking fortune, which details his family’s decades-long effort to use philanthropic organizations as a way to avoid taxes while funding conservative political causes and organizations.