As North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory's budget director, Art Pope will help make important fiscal decisions for a state facing serious threats due to climate disruption, from destructive storms and more intense hurricanes to unusually fast-rising seas.
But he will carry out that work in a political context that's been shaped by disinformation about climate science -- thanks to efforts Pope himself has generously funded.
According to a Facing South analysis of the latest annual tax filing from the John William Pope Foundation, Pope's family fund gave almost $5.7 million from July 2011 through June 2012 to conservative think tanks and advocacy groups that work to deny the scientific consensus that global warming is happening and driven at least in part by human activities like burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests. That represents 61 percent of total giving for the year by the Pope Foundation, which draws its wealth from the Pope family's discount-retail chain, Variety Wholesalers. (Click on chart for a larger version.)
Pope has long been a big contributor to efforts to challenge climate science and block any action to address global warming. Our previous analysis of tax return data showed that the Pope Foundation donated generously to many of the groups that make up what Greenpeace has dubbed the "climate denial machine," a network of industry-supported think tanks that works to sow doubt about global warming -- over $24 million from 1997 to 2008.
Figuring the Pope Foundation gave an average of just over $2.6 million per year to climate science denial groups during that nine-year period, its 2011-2012 total represents an increase in giving to the groups engaged in climate science denial.
Some highlights of the Pope Foundation's anti-science philanthropy in 2011-2012:
* The biggest recipient at over $2.6 million is the John Locke Foundation, which promotes the idea that global warming is a "hoax." A conservative Raleigh, N.C.-based think tank that was founded by Pope and gets most of its support from his foundation, JLF has been one of the most outspoken voices of climate denial in North Carolina, claiming that global warming is a "pseudoscientific fraud." It has worked closely with other prominent denier groups and individuals to cast doubt on the science of global warming; Paul Chesser, a former JLF editor who is prominent in climate denial circles, accused Christians concerned about climate of suffering from “Biblical illiteracy” and cited the Book of Revelation to warn them that “God has some serious global warming of His own planned.” JLF is currently advocating repeal of North Carolina's renewable energy law.
* The second-biggest grantee at over $1.3 million is the John W. Pope Civitas Institute, which claims there is no scientific consensus on climate change. This Raleigh-based think tank founded and largely funded by Pope bills itself as "North Carolina's conservative voice." The group keeps up a steady drumbeat of doubt about the science of global warming and dismisses concerns as coming from "radical environmentalists" and "alarmists" suffering from "Green Fever." Another Pope-founded organization that received money from his family foundation in 2011-2012 -- a total of $542,800 -- was the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, which also promotes the idea that global warming science is a fraud.
* The Pope Foundation contributed $455,000 to the Institute for Humane Studies, a think tank affiliated with prominent climate science deniers. Mother Jones magazine has described IHS, located at George Mason University in Virginia, as a "haven for climate change deniers." Among its current guest lecturers are Paul Driessen with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, a free-market policy organization that says the case for global warming is "dwindling," and several staff members of the Cato Institute, which has played a leading role in the climate denial movement. Art Pope serves on the IHS board, which is chaired by Charles Koch, head of the Koch Industries oil and chemical conglomerate and a leading funder of climate science denial. Pope is a close associate of Charles Koch and his brother David, and they contribute to many of the same climate denial groups.
* It gave $150,000 to the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Americans for Prosperity, a tea party group that’s been a leader in the effort to cast doubt on global warming. AFP was founded by David Koch, and the Koch and Pope family foundations have been its top funders. Art Pope sat on AFP’s national board until his appointment as North Carolina budget director, and Gov. McCrory spent a year touring the state with AFP, becoming what his hometown newspaper called the group’s “de facto spokesman.” AFP sponsored what it billed as a "Hot Air Tour" to challenge what it calls “global warming alarmism,” and its North Carolina chapter has called global warming a “scam.”
* The Pope Foundation contributed $95,000 to Donors Trust, a secretive funding organization with close ties to the climate denial movement. Located in Virginia and affiliated with the Donors Capital Fund, Donors Trust is a nonprofit fund that allows donors to contribute to organizations without disclosing their identities. A recent exposé of Donors Trust by the British newspaper The Independent showed that the group is a major operator in what the paper calls the climate "counter movement" and gets generous funding from the Koch brothers. Among the climate science denial groups that have received significant contributions from Donors Trust are the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, Heartland Institute and State Policy Network; all three also received grants from the Pope Foundation in 2011-2012.
* The Pope Foundation gave $25,000 to the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation, which is targeting state renewable energy laws like North Carolina's. The foundation is the sister group of Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative advocacy group led by Grover Norquist, who worked as a lobbyist for fossil-fuel interests including BP America and the Edison Electric Institute. ATR is a member of the Cooler Heads Coalition, which says it is devoted to "dispelling the myths of global warming." Cooler Heads is closely tied to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which also got $10,000 from Pope in 2011-2012; CEI is being sued for defamation by prominent climate scientist Michael Mann for accusing him of fraud and comparing him to a child molester. ATR is also working to overturn state renewable energy laws and has singled out North Carolina as a state where the "iron is hottest to strike."
At the same time he's helped fund the effort to spread misinformation about climate science, Pope has also contributed generously to the campaigns of North Carolina lawmakers that are hostile to environmental regulation. In fact, lawmakers backed by Pope and his immediate family members have received particularly low scores for their voting records from an environmental advocacy group.
It's a one-two punch of political giving by Pope that will make it more difficult for North Carolina to secure a sustainable future.