Art Pope's Big Day

The Republican takeover of North Carolina's state legislature in 2010 -- the first time since Reconstruction -- caught many by surprise, but perhaps none more than state senator John Snow. A three-term Democrat in the senate's western-most district in the mountains, Snow largely avoided controversy and often bucked his party; one group rated him as the state's second-most conservative senate Democrat. What's more, his Republican opponent Jim Davis -- a dentist and newcomer to state politics -- seemed like a long shot.

But then the money flooded in. Smelling an upset, the state Republican Party injected $321,600 [pdf] into Davis' challenge campaign. By mid-October, the Republican had raked in a total of $448,000 -- a staggering sum for the small district, and nearly double the $225,000 incumbent Snow had raised. (Final campaign finance reports will be released in January.)

If he was caught off guard by the GOP's big spending, Snow was completely blindsided by another onslaught: A barrage of attack ads and mailers from Civitas Action and Real Jobs NC, outside groups backed by conservative donor Art Pope. In lockstep with the Republican Party, the ostensibly non-partisan organizations poured over $205,000 into attacking Snow -- almost as much as Snow had raised for his entire campaign.

The money Republicans and aligned advocacy groups lavished on the Sen-50 race may well have tipped the balance: Two days after the election, Sen. Snow trailed his Republican challenger by just 187 votes.

Sen. Snow was not alone. According to a Facing South analysis of state and federal campaign records, in 2010 three independent groups backed by Art Pope -- Americans for Prosperity, Civitas Action and Real Jobs NC -- poured $1.1 million into 21 state legislative races targeted by Republicans. Art Pope and his family members injected another $232,000 into 19 of those races, for a total of over $1.3 million spent on the targeted state contests.

In most cases, the record-setting investments paid off. Republicans won 18 of the 21 races deluged by party and outside spending -- a stunning 86% win rate. Democrats decisively won just one contest; in two others -- senate districts 44 and 45 -- Democrats are clinging to leads of less than 100 votes.

A state-wide strategy

2010 was the year of big money in elections: The nonprofit Sunlight Foundation estimates over $454 million was shoveled into Congressional races by independent groups and party committees, shattering all earlier records for mid-term elections.

Less-noticed was an equally dramatic rise in state-level campaign dollars, which -- like the national spending spree -- benefited from loosened rules on corporate contributions due to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and gave a crucial money edge to Republicans.

In North Carolina, leading the charge were three groups linked to influential Republican benefactor and retail chain magnate Art Pope:

* Americans for Prosperity, a national group active in the tea party cause, spent $615,893 targeting nine state races -- over half of it going to attacks on Sen. Snow and fellow mountain Democrat Sen. Joe Sam Queen. Art Pope sits on the four-person board of AfP, and while the group's nonprofit status shields it from having to disclose its donors, tax records show that since 2004 Pope's family foundation has given $1.3 million to AfP's sister group, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which is allowed to share some resources with AfP.

* Civitas Action, making its first foray into North Carolina electioneering in 2010, poured another $199,131 on 11 N.C. races. State election reports reveal [pdf] Civitas Action raised $264,889.74 this election cycle: $190,000 from Variety Stores, Inc. -- Art Pope's family business -- and the remaining $74,889.24 from Americans for Prosperity. Civitas Action is a spin-off of the nonprofit Civitas Institute, which Facing South earlier revealed receives over 97% of its income from Pope's family foundation.

* Real Jobs NC, a new group which earned notoriety for its controversial and inaccurate attack ads, injected an additional into $284,490 into 19 races. As a so-called 527 group, Real Jobs NC reports all of its contributors, which included $200,000 from Pope's Variety Stores.

Together, the three groups focused their formidable resources on 21 state contests that were a top priority for Republicans, and which the state GOP also generously backed. Some Democrats were targeted by just one of three outside advocacy groups; 12 were attacked by two or more. Five unlucky Democrats, including Sen. Queen, were barraged by attacks from all three.

Pope family politics

Popes Reign Chart NC 2010.JPGGiven Art Pope's influential role, perhaps it's unsurprising that the 21 races targeted by Americans for Prosperity, Civitas Action and Real Jobs NC -- as well as state Republicans -- also closely followed those targeted by Pope and other members of the Pope family in their personal campaign contributions.

A Facing South analysis of state campaign records for each Republican campaign through mid-October reveals that Art Pope, along with Pope family members Amanda, Joyce, Katherine, and Mrs. John W. Pope contributed a stunning $252,000 to Republicans on the list of targeted races. All but two of the 21 candidates -- Norman Sanderson in House District 3 and Bill Brawley from H-103 -- benefited from contributions from Pope family members.

Together, the money from Pope-backed groups and Pope family members going to the 21 targeted races came to over $1.3 million -- an average of more than $64,000 per race from just those four sources. (See chart above.)

That figure doesn't include contributions made after the last October filing period. It also doesn't include the steady stream of anti-Democratic and pro-Republican reports and analysis the flowed from the network of conservative nonprofits that Pope has spent millions backing in North Carolina.

As Facing South reported earlier, these groups -- which receive on average 89% of their income from Pope's family foundation -- were active participants in North Carolina tea party rallies that openly promoted Republican state candidates, despite legal prohibitions on such nonprofits engaging in electioneering and candidate advocacy.

A national plan

The record-smashing spending in North Carolina's 2010 state elections -- with a goal of capturing the state legislature for Republicans -- was no accident.

Mid-term anti-Democratic sentiment and the Citizens United decision helped set the stage. But Republicans had their eyes on a much bigger political prize in North Carolina: A chance to control redistricting -- the redrawing of the state's political lines that will begin after the 2010 Census numbers are released -- in a Democratic-trending state.

Nationally, the key group was the Republican State Leadership Committee. Chaired by top GOP operative Ed Gillespie, the group launched its REDMAP campaign in February 2010 with a specific aim: To use the committee's $30 million war chest to capture state legislatures and put Republicans in charge of shaping state and Congressional districts in ways favorable to the GOP in the long-term.

By determining who gets to vote and where, RSLC said the payoff would go far beyond this year's elections:

The party controlling [the redistricting] effort controls the drawing of the maps -- shaping the political landscape for the next 10 years.

North Carolina was at the top of the RSLC's target list. Their regional political director, Michael Luethy, worked for the N.C. Republican Party through December 2009 and is based in Raleigh.

The committee also emerged as the leading financial backer of Real Jobs NC: State election records show that in September and October, the RSLC sank an astonishing $1.15 million into the upstart group, 73% of its total income. (The $200,000 from Pope's Variety Stores was a distant second.)

Art Pope was clearly enthusiastic about the RSLC's plan. Not only did he join with them in creating Real Jobs NC as a front group to funnel Republican money to targeted N.C. races. According to OpenSecrets.org, Variety Stores also gave $36,500 to the RSLC in July 2010 to help make their dream of GOP state takeovers a reality.

In a November 3rd column, John Hood of the Pope-supported John Locke Foundation dismissed Democrats who "blame their loss of the General Assembly on independent expenditures, including those by groups receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Raleigh businessman Art Pope."

Money may not have been the only factor in the 2010 elections. But savvy businessmen like Art Pope and the corporate backers of the Republican State Leadership Committee clearly saw a value in making record-shattering contributions in states like North Carolina in 2010. They also expected a return on their investment, in the form of capturing state power.

Indeed, that's just what a plug on the RSLC's website promised their money could accomplish:

The RSLC is the largest caucus of Republican state leaders and the only
national organization whose mission is to elect down ballot, state-level
Republican office-holders ... In
February, the RSLC announced the creation of REDMAP,
which is on pace to raise record amounts dedicated to winning seats and
legislative majorities
that will critically impact redistricting in
2011. [emphasis added]


Comments

Perdue

Long time reader first comment. Perdue should raise hell when redistricting comes up and make a public plea for removing restricting control from the legislature and hand it to a non-partisan commission or at the very least draw fairer districts. It may be our only chance.

Perdue should do a lot of things

You make a great point, but I'm not sure she has much of a leg to stand on after appointing so many losers to so many boards.

Everyone knows a non-partisan commission is the right way to go, but don't expect that to happen now that Art Pope is king. He wouldn't know the right thing if he tripped over it. As the Facing South report shows, Art Pope just wrapped up his big shopping spree, spending millions to buy control of the legislature. If you think he's going to let one of his new Puppets cut the strings and pass up their opportunity to control redistricting, you haven't had a good brush with Republican hypocrisy yet.

As terrifying as the potential for GOP gerrymandering is

It will be difficult for us to make the case for a non-partisan redistricting board now that we are in the minority after we spent years blocking legislation that would do just that when we were in control. It is the right thing to do regardless of who's in control and it's too bad that we didn't pass that legislation when we had the chance.

Redistricting

The Democrats screwed themselves when the constitutional amendment providing the governor with the veto power was adopted. The amendment specifically excludes redistricting from a gubernatorial veto. Republicans in NC have long championed fair districts and this will be a major test to see whether power has the corrupting influence that everyone believes it has. However,despite all the furor over the NC Supreme Court's redistricting decision in 2002, the result was a workable, good government approach to legislative districts that doesn't leave much room for gerrymandering. Now the congressional districts are another matter and everyone can expect to see - or should see - more districts that are competitive. Frankly, Governor Perdue shouldn't worry about redistricting since the Democrats in the Legislature will be on top of that issue.

All talk, no action.

So where is the social media push on this.

Where is the google map of all of Pope's stores?

Where are the negative online reviews which tell our story?

Where are the facebook groups calling for boycott?

Where are the flashmob events to picket the stores?

Where is the coordination with other states (are we alone)?

How are we putting pressure on Pope's suppliers?

In other words, I see a lot of talk, but not much action.

If corporations now control our democracy, we need to start voting with our dollars and leveraging our voice in more commercial ways.

This domain is still available: http://www.boycottartpope.com/

All talk, no action

Some of us have been working to expose Art Pope for almost five years. Where have you been?

And just to ask, what exactly are you doing besides writing a complaint on a blog about others not doing anything?

Point taken

I'm an occasional reader but first time poster. I came to this blog originally on a google search for Real Jobs NC.

But your point is taken. Thanks for putting me in my place, I see none of my questions are relevant at all.

You caught me on a bad day

It wasn't my intention to put you in any place. All of your questions are relevant, very much so.

If you want to get some action moving, I'll follow you anywhere. Seriously.

Reality check on redistricting.

Haven't been here for a while. Sorry, folks, been tied up elsewhere trying to help this year's candidates with elections work, and ultimately getting my tail kicked with most the rest of the Dem organizers in NC.

Now that the election-day catastrophe has occurred, one of the salient questions is whether anything can be done in the real world to address the GOP re-gerrymandering.

I think the answer is "maybe".

Two possibilities:
--State litigation over the new districts.
--US Dept. of Justice rejection of the new districts.

Perdue has no veto power and no political clout with the incoming legislative leadership. And even a united Democratic minority cannot stop the GOPs on this rawly political issue. Both Perdue and the legislative Dems should raise cain during the debate, but that's just for public education. Those approaches cannot stop the redistricting plan from being adopted so long as the GOPs hang together, which recent history indicates they will almost certainly do.

The goal of both of the structurally viable approaches noted above is to delay final implementation of a new plan until after the 2012 elections take place. That will be challenging but not impossible, as Republican efforts proved last decade. If that takes place, it should be possible--not guaranteed, but possible--to have the final plan adoption debated on a more level playing field.

That's my strategy. The alternative, for you GOP lurkers out there in blogland, is for your party's leaders in the legislature to actually live up to your alleged principles and create a genuinely balanced and objective redistricting commission--and implement its plan. That's an approach I'd recommend to you.

But I try to live most of the time in the real world and don't expect either nonpartisan redistricting commissions nor unicorn stampedes to be seen in NC any time soon. In the absence of such unnatural phenomena, I'm pitching plan A of holler, litigate, and delay 'til after 2012.

Dan Besse

Lawyers, guns and money

Holler, litigate and delay. That's my plan too.

Next Step

Only one part of Pope's master plan left to go: Republican governor elected in 2012 (looks like McCrory is gonna run again)

McCrory never stopped running

He's been in campaign mode ever since Duke Energy gave him a new, longer leash.

You're right

He hasn't even slowed down, as far as I can see. And that could be the political battle of the next cycle. Or this cycle, I should say. No respite for the weary...