Art Pope: North Carolina's Little Koch

Jane Mayer has written a scathing profile of Art Pope in the latest New Yorker. If you're unfamiliar with Art Pope, and you care about democracy, you should spend some time with Mayer's piece, State For Sale.

Who exactly is Art Pope?

Remember when North Carolina, an Obama-voting blue state with a Democratic governor, turned back into a red state in 2010? Art Pope played a large role in that happening.

Mayer writes:
Pope’s triumph in 2010 was sweeping. According to an analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies, of the twenty-two legislative races targeted by him, his family, and their organizations, the Republicans won eighteen, placing both chambers of the General Assembly firmly under Republican majorities for the first time since 1870. North Carolina’s Democrats in Congress hung on to power, but those in the state legislature, where Pope had focussed his spending, were routed. 
The institute also found that three-quarters of the spending by independent groups in North Carolina’s 2010 state races came from accounts linked to Pope.
The Pope family foundation—of which Art Pope is the chairman and president, and one of four directors—reportedly has assets of nearly a hundred and fifty million dollars.
This wealth has enabled Pope to participate in the public arena on a scale that few individuals can match.

Art Pope is more or less North Carolina's equivalent of the Koch Brothers.
Graphic from indyweek.com
Pope has at times joined forces with [the Koch brothers], attending some of their semi-annual secret planning summits and, through the family foundation, contributing millions to many of the same causes. Pope, in addition to being on the board of Americans for Prosperity—which David Koch founded, in 2004—served on the board of its predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy, which Koch co-founded, in 1984. Charles Koch recently praised the Popes, along with other donors, for providing financial support for the 2012 election effort, and tax records show that Pope has given money to at least twenty-seven groups supported by the Kochs, including organizations opposing environmental regulations, tax increases, unions, and campaign-spending limits. Pope, in fact, helped fund the legal center run by James Bopp, the lawyer who made the initial filing in the Citizens United case.

Not only is he powerful and influential, Art Pope is sleazy. Mayer writes about the 2010 campaign against Chris Heagarty, a Democratic lawyer, ran for a legislative seat in Wake County:
One ad accused him of having voted “to raise taxes over a billion dollars,” even though he had not yet served in the legislature. Another ad depicted Heagarty, who has dark hair and a dark complexion, as Hispanic. (He is Caucasian.) The ad was sponsored by the North Carolina Republican Party, to which Pope had contributed in 2008. Heagarty said, “They slapped a sombrero on a photo of me, and wrote, ‘Mucho Taxo! Adios, SeƱor!’ ” He said, “If you put all of the Pope groups together, they and the North Carolina G.O.P. spent more to defeat me than the guy who actually won.” He fell silent, then added, “For an individual to have so much power is frightening. The government of North Carolina is for sale.”

Nina Szlosberg-Landis, a Democratic activist in Raleigh, says, “It’s part of a very deliberate national strategy of the ultra-conservative movement to change the face of democracy. And I have to hand it to them. They’re pretty successful.”

Marc Farinella, the Democratic campaign consultant, said. “Pope has used the federal tax code to create a massive campaign apparatus that is only thinly disguised as a collection of benign, civic-minded nonprofit groups.”

What does this mean for 2012?
Experts predict that, next fall, the Republicans will likely take over at least four seats currently held by Democrats in the House of Representatives, helping the Party expand its majority in Congress. Meanwhile, the Republican leadership in the North Carolina General Assembly is raising issues that are sure to galvanize the conservative vote in the 2012 Presidential race, such as a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Pope funds climate-change denial. He funds the Tea Party. He even funnels money into defeating moderate Republicans.

Mayer, appearing on Rachel Maddow's show, stated:

New Yorker portrait of Pope
"In many ways he is the one man who is single-handedly bankrolling a kind of a conservative takeover of the state. At least that's how the Democrats see it down there. It's a state that as you said is just completely key to Barack Obama's reelection, and it's a state that is traditionally neither completely red nor blue, it's kind of a purple state, but it went blue in 2008, and basically the Republican party took one look at it and thought they've got to make sure that it doesn't go that way again in 2012. So there's been a lot of very careful and smart thinking going into the state and a ton of money." 
She went on to explain that Pope "has a vision of America that requires kind of turning back the tide of history to before the New Deal basically. And he will say it has nothing to do with his business interests, but it does include things like opposition to the minimum wage law," as well as "opposition to most taxes, and to all kinds of government services." Mayer continued, "his political vision dovetails with his self-interest, but it goes beyond that I think really with him. He's something of a kind of an ideological purist and a zealot to some extent."

According to investigations by Facing South, Pope's family foundation supplies more than 90% of the income of right-wing groups in North Carolina; in 2010, groups connected to Pope accounted for 75% of the outside election spending that helped Republicans capture the state legislature.

If you care about democracy, and especially if you care about North Carolina, read Mayer's New Yorker piece, and watch the Maddow clip below.

This man is working to take NC back to its darker days. If you are glad to have the days of Jesse Helms behind you, it's worth noting that, as Mayer states, "Even some North Carolinians associated with Jesse Helms think that Pope has gone too far."

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