Art Pope
Art Pope

Investigative Series: How Pope Reigns

Art Pope
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Although not well known, North Carolina millionaire Art Pope is one of the most influential benefactors of conservative causes and Republican politics in North Carolina -- and increasingly, the country.

Beginning in October 2010, Facing South and the Institute for Southern Studies launched an investigative series looking at the scope and nature of Pope's political empire -- one of the most in-depth looks at a state-level political donor and operative to date. Among the findings of our investigation:

* Art Pope exerts an unusual level of influence over North Carolina's conservative establishment. According to Facing South's analysis, about 90 percent of the funding of the state's leading conservative think tanks and advocacy groups comes from Pope's family foundation, which he runs. Pope is also installed on the board of directors of most of these groups.

* Pope was key to fueling the Republican Party's historic takeover of the North Carolina legislature in 2010. Facing South showed how three groups backed by Pope -- Americans for Prosperity, Civitas Action and Real Jobs NC -- joined with Pope family members to spent over $2.2 million targeting two dozen key state races last November. Republicans won nearly 80 percent of those constests. (Here's an updated analysis we did of Pope's election spending.)

* While staying out of the spotlight, Pope backs some of the right wing's most controversial causes. Pope's groups have worked closely with the Tea Party Express, whose leaders have been widely condemned for making racially-charged statements, and Pope's foundation has funded many groups that deny the scientific consensus about global climate change (and more recently, attacks on climate scientists themselves.)

Pieces of our investigation have been covered by The Raleigh News & Observer, WRAL TV and other major media outlets; in the wake of our series, some even called for a boycott of the discount retail stores owned by Pope's Variety Wholesalers chain, which includes Roses and Maxway.

In March 2011, Facing South/the Institute teamed up with The Independent Weekly to produce a widely-circulated investigative package looking at Pope's empire. In October 2011, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker drew heavily on Facing South's and The Independent Weekly's coverage for her in-depth profile of Pope, which was later featured on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," NPR's "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross, and other leading national media.

Also in October 2011, Facing South/the Institute launched a special investigative project, ArtPopeExposed.com, tracking the money, people and agenda driving Pope's empire, which generated more media coverage.

Most importantly, our series has helped shine a spotlight on the growing influence of money in shaping politics at the state level, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. We plan to continue reporting on this critical issue and its implications for our democracy.

Here are some the key stories in our investigative series on Art Pope and money in North Carolina and national politics:

POPE THE VOTE (10/8/10): Little-known outside North Carolina, Republican retail magnate Art Pope is silently rising as a national player in the 2010 elections. But many say his strategy of funneling money for political attack ads through nonprofits pushes the limits of the law.

BLESSED TO HAVE A POPE (10/14/10): 90 cents out of every dollar received by North Carolina's leading conservative organizations come from one foundation, led by conservative donor Art Pope. But the benefactor's generosity may come with strings attached. Plus see this response (10/19/10) to Pope-funded groups who criticized Facing South's series.

ART POPE: STILL DANCING AT THE TEA PARTY? (10/21/10): While some conservatives have distanced themselves from controversial elements of the Tea Party movement, groups in North Carolina backed by influential donor Art Pope continue to embrace them.

A POPE OF CLIMATE DENIAL (10/26/10): Art Pope, North Carolina's leading conservative benefactor, has worked closely with the Koch oil barons and spent millions of his own discount retail fortune to sow doubt about the scientific consensus on global warming. Now he's hoping to reap the political benefits.

POPE BANKROLLS DUBIOUS 'VOTER FRAUD' CRUSADE (10/28/10): North Carolina's conservative benefactor Art Pope has taken a leading role in the right's crusade against "voter fraud." But the groups he supports still can't prove it's a real problem.

POPE'S BIG DAY: REPUBLICAN BENEFACTOR FUELED GOP CAPTURE OF NC LEGISLATURE (11/9/10): In 2010, three conservative groups and a Republican benefactor's family spent over $2.2 million targeting key races to take over the North Carolina legislature. Here's what they got for their record-shattering investment. Also see Pope's response: I didn't "buy the North Carolina legislature."

GOP DONOR POPE: I DIDN'T 'BUY THE NORTH CAROLINA LEGISLATURE' (VIDEO) (11/16/2010): Art Pope responds to the Facing South/Institute investigation looking at his role in fueling the GOP's historic takeover of the North Carolina legislature in 2010.

NC SCHOOL BOARD ENGINEERED BY CONSERVATIVE BENEFACTOR DRAWS CIVIL RIGHTS SCRUTINY (12/16/10): Prominent conservative funder Art Pope was the mastermind behind the Republican school board majority in Wake County, N.C. that's now under federal investigation for scrapping a lauded desegregation policy.

NC GROUPS BACKED BY TOP POLITICAL BENEFACTOR PUSH TO KILL STATE CAMPAIGN FINANCE PROGRAM (1/4/11): North Carolina conservative groups founded and largely funded by Republican benefactor Art Pope are calling for an end to the state's widely-used 'clean elections' program. Maybe it's because Pope's record-shattering spending in 2010 was so successful in fueling the GOP's capture of the state legislature.

WHAT IS ART POPE'S AGENDA FOR NORTH CAROLINA? (1/24/11): The agenda promoted by North Carolina's new GOP legislative majority bears an uncanny resemblance to that promoted by advocacy groups largely funded by Art Pope, whose money was also instrumental to GOP victories in 2010.

THE ART POPE EMPIRE (3/9/2011): The combination of Pope's media outlets, think tanks and election machine give him singular power in North Carolina. Published in partnership with The Independent Weekly (see the entire special Indy/Facing South issue on Art Pope here).

CIVITAS POLLSTER FINED $10,000 FOR BREAKING NC ROBO-CALL LAW AFTER COMPLAINT BY FACING SOUTH EDITOR (5/26/11): A complaint filed by a Facing South editor in 2009 resulted in a fine against the Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank largely funded by GOP benefactor Art Pope.

GOP DONOR PUT ON BOARD OF FOUNDATION HIS GROUPS WANT TO ABOLISH (6/15/11): Groups funded by conservative benefactor have long called for eliminating the Golden Leaf Foundation. But now that Republicans control the state legislature -- in part due to Pope's support -- he's been appointed to the board of the part-public charity.

KOCH JR.: ART POPE AND THE RIGHT'S MILLION DOLLAR CLUB (9/8/11): Art Pope isn't just a big money player in North Carolina. He's also a key junior lieutenant to the billionaire Koch brothers, funding and leading the same right-wing advocacy groups.

NORTH CAROLINA FOR SALE? NEW YORKER PROFILE THRUSTS POPE INTO NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT (10/4/11): A profile of North Carolina power broker Art Pope by Jane Mayer of the New Yorker brings national attention to the conservative benefactor's growing advocacy and electoral empire.

ART POPE BANKROLLS CANDIDATES DISMANTLING DESEGREGATION POLICY IN NC SCHOOL SYSTEM (10/5/11): After working behind the scenes during the pivotal 2009 school board election in Wake County, N.C., the conservative benefactor, Americans for Prosperity director and ally of the Koch brothers is now directly funding candidates opposed to the public school system's nationally-recognized diversity policy.

EXPLAINER: HOW MUCH DID ART POPE'S NETWORK SPEND ON NORTH CAROLINA'S 2010 LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS? (10/7/11): Art Pope tries to downplay the money he spent to help fuel the historic GOP victories in North Carolina's state legislature. Here's a run-down on the different ways Pope injects money into politics -- and why he's so influential.

POPE PREACHES SELF-RELIANCE, TOOK $330,000 FAMILY LOAN TO RUN FOR OFFICE (10/11/11): Conservative benefactor Art Pope uses his money to promote a philosophy of self-reliance. But when he needed help to run for office, he took $330,000 in loans from his parents that he never paid back.

HOW ART POPE HELPED BRING YOU HERMAN CAIN (10/17/11): A big part of Tea Party darling Herman Cain's media image is about being a political outsider. But a new Associated Press report shows how the conservative activist group Americans for Prosperity, led by the Koch brothers and Art Pope, has been a critical springboard for the 2012 Republican presidential hopeful.

THREE REASONS ART POPE DESERVES SPECIAL MEDIA SCRUTINY (10/21/11): In the face of growing national attention, Art Pope and his defenders insist he's merely the victim of personal attacks and not any different then other political benefactors. But Art Pope's influence in North Carolina is unique -- and uniquely deserving of scrutiny.

BIG LOSS FOR POPE IN SCHOOL RESEGREGATION FIGHT (11/9/11): Voters in Wake County, N.C. have shifted power on the local school board back to Democrats who support a student assignment policy that values diversity -- but it wasn't for a lack of spending on the conservative benefactor's part.

ART POPE'S MONEY KEY TO ANTI-GAY MARRIAGE PUSH (11/10/11): Pope's family foundation has given nearly $1 million to anti-gay marriage groups, most of it to the N.C. Family Policy Council, which has been leading the effort to pass a constitutional amendment against gay marriage in N.C. since 2004.

TEACHERS CALL FOR BOYCOTT OF POPE STORES (12/2/11): The North Carolina Association of Educators has called for shoppers to boycott stores owned by Raleigh multimillionaire and conservative operative Art Pope for his "anti-public education" policies.

GIVE ME SOME OF THAT OLD TIME SECESSION (12/8/11): At a major conference in North Carolina next March, the Art Pope-funded Civitas Institute has invited a lead speaker best known for pushing a constitutional amendment making it easier for states to secede from the U.S.A.

CLIMATE SCIENCE DENIERS JOIN FORCES AGAINST NC'S RENEWABLE ENERGY PROGRAM (12/9/11): The American Legislative Exchange Council, American Tradition Institute and the John Locke Foundation are preaching against wind energy and renewable mandates in presentations that play fast and loose with the facts.

ART POPE'S MONEY DRIVES NC LEGISLATURE'S ANTI-ENVIRONMENTAL TURN (1/11/12): North Carolina lawmakers have racked up the lowest conservation scores ever in a newly released report card - and those supported by the conservative benefactor and his family members scored far below the record low average.

ART POPE TURNS UP IN CLIMATE DISINFORMATION EXPOSÉ (2/16/12): Internal documents obtained from the Heartland Institute, a leading player in the climate disinformation campaign, show that the group is counting on continuing support from the North Carolina conservative benefactor and retail magnate.

ARE TAXPAYERS HELPING SUPPORT THE KOCHS' AND ART POPE'S ATTACK ADS? (4/30/2012) Right-wing donors like the Koch brothers and Art Pope rail against the use of public money to level the campaign finance playing field. But their use of nonprofit charities -- which benefit from government subsidies -- for political activities is coming under growing scrutiny.

THE POPE MACHINE'S WACKY ATTACK ON THE SCIENCE OF SEA LEVEL RISE (6/21/2012): A journal funded by leading North Carolina conservative benefactor Art Pope attacks the science of sea level rise, offering as evidence an article that appeared in a periodical published by Lyndon LaRouche supporters, written by an author who champions the pseudoscience of dowsing.

ART POPE TRANSLATES DOLLARS INTO INFLUENCE AT UNC (9/18/2012): Conservative donor Art Pope has given millions to North Carolina's public universities, often to have his offers rejected over political controversies. Now he has a seat at the table in deciding the UNC system's future.

ART POPE RIDES AGAIN (11/21/2012): Conservative donor Art Pope's money helped the GOP take control of North Carolina's legislature in 2010. In 2012, Pope's family, business and groups helped fuel even bigger Republican gains in the battleground state.

ART POPE'S PATH TO POWER (12/21/2012): Wealthy Republican donor Art Pope has been building influence and clout for years in North Carolina. Appointed in late 2012 to direct the state's budget, he now finds himself with his hands on the levers of power.

BULK OF POPE FOUNDATION MONEY CHANNELED INTO CONSERVATIVE ADVOCACY (1/30/2013): Every December, the family foundation run by GOP mega-donor Art Pope publicizes the money it gives to the arts and community services. But it rarely mentions its grants to conservative groups and causes -- even though they make up 70 percent of the Pope Foundation's philanthropy.

ARE NC SCHOOLS TEACHING ART POPE'S VERSION OF HISTORY? (2/28/2013): A group backed by the Koch brothers and Art Pope, offering a conservative spin on U.S. history, is being promoted as a resource for North Carolina school teachers.

ART POPE-BACKED LAWMAKER LEADS PUSH FOR NEW VOTING RESTRICTIONS IN NC (4/3/2013): In the spring of 2013, GOP lawmakers unleashed a flurry of bills that would make sweeping changes to North Carolina elections. They share a common message -- and a common sponsor, backed by one of the state's biggest political donors.

HOW ART POPE KILLED CLEAN ELECTIONS FOR JUDGES IN NORTH CAROLINA (6/13/2013): For more than a decade, North Carolina's Republican mega-donor fought tirelessly to stop the state's pioneering program to free judges from special interest influence. Pope's crusade has finally come to a victorious end.

ART POPE-FUNDED GROUP LAUNCHES DATABASE TARGETING MORAL MONDAY ARRESTEES (6/19/2013): The Civitas Institute is publicizing the names, residence, political registration, employers, and other details of those arrested at the ongoing NAACP-organized protests at the legislature. The project calls to mind how Southern civil rights opponents once published the names of NAACP supporters in newspapers to encourage retaliation against them.

HOW ART POPE HELPED TURN BACK THE CLOCK ON VOTING RIGHTS IN NORTH CAROLINA (8/29/2013): The conservative mega-donor, now the state budget director, played important but behind-the-scenes roles in the passage of one of the nation's most restrictive voting laws, from ginning up fear of voter fraud to backing politicians who fought for voting restrictions.

ART POPE THINK TANK PULLED INTO LAWSUIT OVER NC VOTER SUPPRESSION BILL (9/11/2013): Plaintiffs suing over North Carolina's controversial new elections law have notified the Civitas Institute -- a conservative think tank founded and largely funded by Republican mega-donor Art Pope, now state budget director -- to preserve documents and other records related to the legislation.

WHY IS GOP MEGA-DONOR ART POPE DISTANCING HIMSELF FROM CONTROVERSIAL BIG-MONEY GROUPS? (10/9/2013) Under fire for using his personal fortune to buy elections, North Carolina's leading conservative financier denies giving money to super PACs. But campaign finance watchdogs say his denial amounts to playing word games while he's building a "government of the obscenely rich, by the obscenely rich, and for the obscenely rich."

CONSERVATIVE GROUP DEMANDS EMAILS, PHONE RECORDS OF UNC ANTI-POVERTY CRUSADER AFTER CRITICAL NEWSPAPER COLUMN (11/21/2013): The Civitas Institute, a think tank founded and funded by GOP mega-donor and NC budget director Art Pope, demanded emails and other records from UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity Director Gene Nichol shortly after he published a column blasting the McCrory administration. Is this yet another fishing expedition aimed at harassing an outspoken academic?

For more Facing South/Institute coverage of Art Pope and his political empire, visit ArtPopeExposed.com or follow on Twitter at @ArtPopeExposed.

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