Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics

Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics, written by Peter Geoghegen, is about how the political system in democracies is being undermined by concealed influence of large amounts of money. Peter is editor of openDemocracy, an organisation which publishes a web site covering issues related to free speech, equality and democracy. Much of the contents of the book can also be found in the Dark Money section of the openDemocracy web site, but reorganised as book chapters rather than individual articles.

The book is largely focussed on uncovering the flow of money from secretive sources into democratic politics, and how it is used to influence the results of elections. I hope more transparency would help to make it easier to detect interference before it is too late.

Unfortunately growing cynicism and lack of trust in politicians and politics related sources of news makes me wonder if even if dubious flows of money were uncovered they would be dismissed as ‘fake news’.

This is a work in progress, published before I cover the whole book, but in summary, if you agree with the views to be found on the openDemocracy web site, you will probably like this book, and if you disagree with those view you will probably not read it.


The book starts with the author, as a reporter interviewing voters in Sunderland during the run up to the Brexit referendum and encountering leaflets promoting a vote for Leave, which were paid for by the Democratic Unionist Party – a Northern Irish party, which does not normally have an interest in how people in the North of England vote.

Democracy on Leave ?

This chapter covers the financing behind the Brexit Leave campaign. There is some description of the complexity of the UK law relating to election finance, which is sufficiently obscure that it can be hard to tell whether some acts are illegal, even if they appear to be suspicious. Described how the 2004 North East England devolution referendum and 2011 United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum were both won by campaigners with considerable overlap with the Brexit Leave team.

The dark money went to buy 1.5 billion pro-Brexit messages and videos on Facebook in the last few days before the vote – targeting for maximum effectiveness using data from Cambridge Analytica.

I wonder (not covered by the book), whether Federated Social Media would be harder to influence in this way – as I wrote about in Federated Social Media and Journalism.

The Bad Boys of Brexit

Primarily about Aaron Banks, and the complex web of financial transactions behind his involvement with Leave.EU

The DUP’s Dark Money

Dating back to The Troubles, the laws relating to political spending in Northern Ireland are different from the rest of the UK, as publicly supporting either side could lead to risk to the life of the donor.

The secrecy protecting the DUP from disclosing sources of finance allowed the Constitutional Research Council, an unincorporated association based in Glasgow, to donate £435,000 to their Leave campaign without having to explain where the money came from. The money was primarily used to fund advertising for Leave on the UK mainland.

The Party Within a Party

Discusses the history and influence of the European Research Group. In 1998 Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay received a package delivered to his House of Commons Office, but addressed to the European Research Group, containing 100 cheques and a paying in book in the name of “The Danish Referendum Campaign Account.”.

In the 2000 Danish euro referendum the Danish people decided by 53% to 47% to retain the Kroner rather than joining the Eurozone.

The Atlantic Bridge to Global Britain.

This discusses the connections between American and British think tanks and libertarian groups.

The Brexit Influencing Game

Digital Gangsters

Mentions the high percentage of viral political messages circulating within WhatsApp. (whose funding model concerns me). Also the effect of persuading young people not to vote in the Trinidad and Tobago elections via a fake grassroots ‘Do So’ (don’t vote) campaign, which swung the election by 6%. The documentary ‘The Great Hack‘ contains a clip of Alexander Nix describing how this was done.

The Dead Cat

Making Europe Great Again

About the rise of the far right in Europe and its links and support from the far right in the US. Describes connections between the World Congress of Families and Hungarian president Viktor Orban, and Italian politician Matteo Salvini and others.

… more to come, possibly – though my book review backlog is huge, and the pieces already written are pretty scary already.

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