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What is Art Pope's agenda for North Carolina?

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In North Carolina, there's little argument: The most important backer of conservative causes and politicians is Raleigh retail magnate Art Pope.

As a Facing South series looking at Pope's influence documented, Pope's family foundation supplies about 90 percent of the income for policy groups and think tanks that promote a conservative agenda in the state.

On the political side, Pope's money was also key to the Republican Party's historic takeover of the N.C. legislature in 2010: Facing South found that Pope's groups and family members injected over $2.2 million into 22 state races, helping fuel the GOP to victory.

Now, as North Carolina Republicans prepare to assume leadership this week, political observers are wondering: What kind of influence will Pope and his network of organizations have in pushing their agenda for the state in 2011?

The question of Pope's influence was underscored in early January, when Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam (R) announced he was hiring from groups in Pope's network for key staff positions.

Another way to measure Pope's influence is to compare the issues that state Republicans have pledged to make top priorities in 2011, and comparing them to the legislative agendas promoted by Pope-backed organizations.

So far, two of the leading groups in Pope's network -- the John Locke Foundation and Americans for Prosperity-N.C. -- have announced their top 2011 agenda items for the state. Here's a chart showing how they match up with the top issues Republicans ran on in November 2010 and have recently told reporters are at the top of their to-do list:

Pope NC Agenda 2011.jpg
(click on image for larger version)

The comparison reveals several core areas where the state's Republican leadership and Pope-backed groups are unified:

1) LESS TAXES: Republicans are vowing to let a temporary increase in the sales tax expire at the end of the fiscal year, a move supported by Americans for Prosperity and the John W. Pope Civitas Institute, which is also largely supported by Pope's foundation. It's also a move that's hard to square with the GOP's other top concern of balancing the state budget -- forcing even deeper cuts in schools and social services.

2) MORE CHARTER SCHOOLS: Recent news accounts have confirmed that state Republicans will move quickly to eliminate a state-wide cap on the number of charter schools, independent schools run with public backing. Advocates say charters promote innovation; detractors say they undermine public schools. Eliminating the state's 100-school limit is a priority for all of the groups in Pope's network.

3) VOTER ID: A bill requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls is also on the GOP's fast-track list. Although not a big issue for Locke or AfP, Civitas has led the charge for new voter restrictions through its N.C. Election Reform Network. There's no evidence that voter fraud is a widespread problem, and Republicans haven't explained how they'll account for thousands of voters -- like the elderly, disabled citizens and students -- who don't have a photo ID. If voters have to pay for it, critics say that amounts to a poll tax. If the state picks up the tab, what does that do to the state budget?

4) EMINENT DOMAIN: Republicans and all the Pope-backed groups want to end the state's use of eminent domain to take property for economic development projects.

After that, the agenda gets murkier. Socially-conservative Republicans are talking about a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and long-time abortion foe Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, the likely House majority leader, may push for an "informed consent" bill. Both are issues ignored by the Pope's network of groups.

The groups backed by Pope's foundation also have a wish-list of issues -- stopping subsidies used to lure companies to the state, repealing the state's renewable-energy laws (Senate Bill 3) and ending N.C. system of publicly-financed, "voter-owned" elections -- that the GOP has yet to signal are big priorities for lawmakers.

Which issues will end up being priorities for North Carolina's new Republican leadership? Will they hew closely to the agenda of Pope's network, or chart a more independent course? On issues like charter schools and voter ID, the answers are clear. For the rest: Stay tuned.

(H/T to Facing South reader MP)

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re: What is Art Pope's agenda for North Carolina?

Art Pope is not only a Republican, but he is a former four term North Carolina Republican Legislator.

So what is so shocking, requiring an “investigation” and “documentation” that former Republican Legislator Art Pope and the new Republican Legislative majority support the same legislative agenda?

And all the issues listed already have broad based support among Republicans and conservatives. I mean how hard is to figure out they all support “less taxes,” gasp!

None benefit Art Pope or his company personally. Heck, some of the issues progressives may even support, such as ending corporate welfare “incentives.”

So what is the big deal?

Where was all your investigative reporting been on the Democratic Party supporting the agenda of the Democratic Party donors, including the unions and trial lawyers? Where was your reporting when the old Democratic Party majority enacted parts of the progressive agenda of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, such as the taxpayer financed political campaigns you call “Voter Owned” Elections?

Whoops, that is part of the progressive agenda you support, and you are financed by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Never mind, you don’t need to answer.

re: What is Art Pope's agenda for North Carolina?

Interesting knee jerk response. Facing South focused on one person/family financing the front groups and campaign contibutions to a right-of-conservative cause noting the Popes as the sole (unreported) source of funding.

This is NC. What unions? And the Trail Lawyers, though significant campaign funders, are not a "person" (except to the Supreme Court) and all their contributions are publicly reported. They also certainly can't match the money from corporate PACS and business alliances.

The Z. Smith Foundation is a public foundation, unlike Civitas or the Locke Foundation (private foundations funded by Pope). They may have an "agenda" of helping ther poor and some progressive programs, but they do not participate in political commentary or campaigns, and they certainly don't fund candidates and partisan shill groups.

You are free to love the work that Pope and his minions do but do not pretend that they operate the same way as public foundations or political organizations that publicly account for their activity and expenditures.

re: What is Art Pope's agenda for North Carolina?

I hope that the Republicans go "whole hog" and get everything they are asking for. It will just make the innevitable public and PROGRESSIVE backlash that much more interesting and focused.

Thank you Mr. Pope for being such a useful lightning rod...

re: What is Art Pope's agenda for North Carolina?

Art Pop's Republicans are starting to say they want to block North Carolina from being subject to the new federal health reform law. This means insurance companies in NC would NOT have to ensure anyone with pre-existing conditions, could subject us to lifetime insurance limits, would prevent us from covering our kids under our health insurance, seniors would be stuck with the donut hole on prescription drug cost, would deny small businesses in NC the tax credit for covering their employees -- exactly HOW is this good for North Carolinians? Such an act would be like telling us to move to another state.

re: What is Art Pope's agenda for North Carolina?

What will be really interesting to see is whether Mr. Pope's folks in the legislature will try to mask their initiatives as budget savers while eliminating sales taxes thereby robbing local jurisdictions of funding and causing more dependence on property taxes.