I had never heard of Art Pope until the fall of 2011, when Jane Mayer wrote a scathing profile for the New Yorker magazine about the man who was operating to dominate North Carolina state politics under the freedom created by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010, Citizens United decision that “struck down limits on corporate campaign spending.”
On January 3, 2014, Bill Moyers & Company traced the growing power of Art Pope in State of Conflict: North Carolina, a documentary on one of the states where today Republicans control both houses of the General Assembly and the governor’s mansion. I urge you to watch this program.
Art Pope, owner of Variety Wholesalers, has continued to consolidate power. Moyers reports: “At the heart of this conservative onslaught sits a businessman who is so wealthy and powerful that he is frequently described as the state’s own ‘Koch brother.’ Art Pope, whose family fortune was made via a chain of discount stores, has poured tens of millions of dollars into a network of foundations and think tanks that advocate a wide range of conservative causes. Pope is also a major funder of conservative political candidates in the state.”
Pope now serves as the state Budget Director under Governor Pat McCrory, and according to stinktanks.org, the John William Pope Foundation, controlled by Art Pope and named for his father, contributes 90 percent of the funding for two powerful far-right North Carolina groups, the John Locke Foundation and the Civitas Institute. According to stinktanks.org, the agenda of these two organizations is to block access to affordable healthcare; curb voting rights for minorities, the elderly and students; defund public education and institute vouchers; restrict collective bargaining; repeal the minimum wage, lower corporate taxes, oppose renewable energy; oppose marriage equality; and oppose gun safety measures.
Sue Sturgis of the Institute for Southern Studies documents the amounts Pope spent in the 2012 election to ensure “veto-proof supermajorities in both legislative chambers: $668,000.” Sturgis adds that an additional $1.4 million was spent by political advocacy groups affiliated with Art Pope along with $20,000 spent to elect now-Governor Pat McCrory. According to Sturgis, in the past year the state has lost 5,200 public school teachers under the budget passed by McCrory and North Carolina’s far-right general assembly.
Moral Mondays—growing protests of Raleigh’s attempt to curb voting rights, labor rights, healthcare, and public education—have been led by Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP. You’ll see the prophetic Rev. Barber in Moyers’ video; you can also watch Barber address a national assembly of public education advocates here. Working with Barber to lead Moral Mondays has been Gene Nichol, professor of law at the University of North Carolina and head of its Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity. The Civitas Institute has, as reported in December by the North Carolina Policy Watch, been harassing Professor Nichol by filing a public records request “to obtain six weeks’ worth of Nichol’s personal e-mail correspondence, phone logs, text messages, and calendar entries.” Hundreds of professors from 24 North Carolina institutions of higher learning wrote a letter to Governor McCrory and Budget Director Pope to condemn the public records request from the Civitas Institute as an infringement of Professor Nichol’s free speech. The letter states:
“This request is clearly in retribution for Professor Nichol’s public commentary critical of your administration. We write to both of you because it is public knowledge that, in the words of the Institute for Southern Studies, ‘Civitas gets over 90 percent of its funding from the Pope family foundation—so much so that the IRS classifies it as a ‘private foundation,’ a designation reserved for nonprofits that depend on a single benefactor.’ Thus, citizens may reasonably infer that a sitting administration is using a private tax-exempt nonprofit organization funded by one of its leading officials to retaliate for criticism of its policies and intimidate future dissent. To our knowledge this action is unprecedented in our state’s political history.”