Art Pope, Bankroller of North Carolina’s Republican Agenda, Tells All

October 10, 2011; Source: The New Yorker | In the national press narrative concerning the source of funding behind the Republican campaign to unseat President Obama and Congressional Democrats, one repeatedly hears of the Koch brothers—David H. and Charles G. Koch, scions of the founder of Koch Industries, the second largest privately owned corporation in the U.S.—as though they are financial Rasputins controlling the entire show. The Koch brothers have given more than $100 million to politically conservative organizations such as the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, and FreedomWorks, as well as to others associated with the Tea Party movement.

North Carolina’s homegrown version of the Koch brothers is Art Pope, chairman and CEO of the discount store chain Variety Wholesalers. In 2010, Pope was very active putting money into “independent” groups taking on Democratic candidates in North Carolina, making himself something of a regional Koch through his support of Real Jobs NC and Civitas Action. Some of the techniques used by Pope’s organizations were a little on the slimy side, carrying subtle racial or ethnic overtones, and large on the money side, usually spending more in “independent” political advertising than the candidates they supported or opposed. One source reported that three-fourths of the spending by independent groups like Real Jobs NC and Civitas Action in state legislative races “came from accounts linked to Pope.” In all, Pope spent $2.2 million on 22 state races.

What makes Pope of interest to NPQ Newswire readers is that his independent political operations are hardly his only political ventures. Pope’s family foundation has long been a funder of the John Locke Foundation, one of the many state-level conservative think tanks that have had significant influence over state-level public policy issues. Pope’s family philanthropy and his donations to independent 501(c)(4) organizations, according to a Democratic advisor to Governor Beverly Perdue, make “the Republican agenda in North Carolina…really Art Pope’s agenda. He sets it, he funds it, and he directs the efforts to achieve it.”

Most of these money people are relatively anonymous and press-averse, which is why many operate through secretive 501(c)(4)s. But this New Yorker profile of Pope, based on interviews with Pope himself, staff people at his various think tanks, and others, is a very revealing portrait of the motivations of a wealthy businessman who decides to capitalize an array of entities to shape one state’s political destiny. What makes Art Pope tick? It is well worth the read.—Rick Cohen