It's not a wizard, just a rich man behind the curtain

Art Pope exposed on a national scale, once again:

Recognizing that this conservative moment might not last long, Republican legislators are moving swiftly. Despite the headlines, the most notorious bills—like the resolution to establish a state religion or the measure to outlaw public nipple displays—have been nonstarters. But the core of Pope’s agenda is going ahead. Every lawmaker in North Carolina knows that agenda: Scale back taxes, especially for businesses and the wealthy; slice away at the social safety net; and reverse the state’s focus on public schools as an engine for social and economic progress.

While writing this, I've got the TV news (14) going on in the background, and there was just a quick blurb of McCrory saying, "I've learned in leadership, you don't get caught up in who gets the credit." I bet you have. You're only going to be allowed to live in that Governor's mansion as long as you play by Pope's rules:

Art Pope has been the big-money boss man of North Carolina conservatives since the 1990s. Drawing on a family fortune amassed through Variety Wholesalers, the discount retail chain launched by his father, Pope has spent more than $40 million to promote a libertarian agenda, along with voter-suppression measures like voter ID. He represents a sharp departure from the business moderates who used to run the North Carolina GOP, and has, in fact, spent heavily in replacing those moderates with right-wing Republicans more to his liking.

Get it? Pope doesn't just help Republicans, he helps Republicans he knows will toe the line. And if you think you can win an intra-party conflict with Art on the other side, think again. He's lost a few of those battles in the past, and he learned from those losses. Won't happen anymore. Not with clout like this:

Pope’s family foundation supplies well over 80 percent of total funding for the state’s leading conservative groups. His right-wing philanthropy has been complemented by generous election contributions. Pope and his family have given almost $4 million to state Republican candidates and the North Carolina GOP. But it wasn’t until 2010 that Pope’s roles as conservative benefactor and Republican donor fully meshed to alter the course of state politics.

Three outside spending groups he helped fund—Americans for Prosperity, Civitas Action, and Real Jobs NC—accounted for 75 percent of the outside money that flooded into North Carolina’s legislative races. That unprecedented level of spending fueled the historic Republican takeover.

Hat-tip to Sue and Chris at ISS for continuing to speak out about this. With Art Pope manipulating both politics and policy in our state, we simply can't afford to not keep our eyes on him.


Someone asked me about this recently

"If you had hundreds of millions of dollars, would you spend $40 million to reshape the government in your own image?"

My answer was unambiguously, "No."

No person should be allowed to buy elections in America. Right or left, doesn't matter. It is morally wrong at every level of analysis you want to pursue. So, for all his bluster about integrity and rooting out corruption, Art Pope himself is the most destructive and immoral player in North Carolina society.

The irony is, we created him

Maybe not the person himself, but his ability to influence our Democracy so much. And that may be behind the reason (normally) intelligent and thoughtful Democrats think we should stop harping about Art Pope.

The only real solution to the Pope problem is the enactment of radical campaign finance laws, to take money out of the equation. Or at least minimize the effect it has on access to elected officials.

Unfortunately, many Democrats believe they can harness those corporate dollars just like Republicans do, and take back all the seats that have been lost. But they're forgetting one very important fact: aside from a handful of progressive corporate leaders, the vast majority of businessmen (and women) would prefer to operate with little (or no) government oversight of their behavior. As such, the vast majority of their dollars will flow to Republicans, to get them elected or keep them in office.

Campaign finance reform is a win/win for Democrats. Unfortunately, just like the opportunity to enact non-partisan redistricting, they may have waited too long to do what's smart (and right).

It's all about Pope

I'll agree with you on one point - there's just no way that the Dems can hope to use the same tactic as Pope to take back our state government. The big money players aren't going to toss that much money in the ring and are more likely to support more mainstream Republican policies that are "hands off" business.

But I do think Pope is still worth watching and commenting on for several reasons.

The Dems didn't exactly create this monster - the Supreme Court did with Citizens United. With the "hidden money as political free speech" arguement, Pope and his allies have (and will continue to) fund extremist groups, protests, and movements in the state, giving an impression that Tea Bagger extremism is more widespread and popular than it is.

The fight over Amendment One, to me, was the perfect example.

When the fight about putting the measure was before the legislature, opponents of the bill were talking about how it would be bad for North Carolina. However, they weren't pushing the media on asking where the money came from to bus in protestors from these small fringe churches who rallied in support of the thing.

Later, when the measure was on the ballot, there was an influx of money to a couple of extremist organizations to buy ads and influence the public about the law. Again, we harped on how bad the law would be, but weren't really asking who was paying to get it passed.

Was there a real grassroots movement to push through this law and get Amendment One passed? Hell no - it was astroturfed by a small group of religious nutcases getting money from someone else.

In county after county in North Carolina, there were small Tea Bagger groups that popped up for brief periods that attracted small numbers of people and just came and went like the wind. Did these small groups have the grassroots support to maintain a sustained effort and fund campaigns? Hell no - the money for these candidates came from Pope and Americans for Prosperity.

Besides creating a false impression of some wider movement for this Tea Bagger nonsense, there's the very real problem of buying government influence that's at the heart of the Pope money machine. Just about every bill the Republicans have introduced benefits particular people, companies or corporations.

This isn't about Art Pope reshaping NC into his personal vision of some little ultra-conservative libertarian utopia.

Pope's money - and the money of his cronies - is buying legislation and policies that benefit people and companies associated with Americans for Prosperity.

Your vote - and what you think would be best for all of North Carolina or your own community - doesn't matter anymore. What you want has been swept away so that a small group of land developers, business owners, and religious organizations can gorge themselves at the public's expense.

Pope isn't the problem as much as he's a symbol of everything that's gone wrong in North Carolina politics.

Why shouldn't we be pointing out that this man - and others just like him - are shysters distracting voters with racism, homophobia, false nostalgia, and fear just so they can reach around and grab a few dollars out of your pocket?

Finally, Pope is worth harping on because, in my opinion, he's a paper tiger.

In a post I put together a few weeks back, I did some digging on how much Pope has been spending on his little political whims in North Carolina versus what he's making in income and profit from his primary business, Variety Wholesalers. The numbers just don't add up - either Pope is over extending himself, spending like a madman to massage his personal pride, or he has other sources of income he's not talking about or disclosing in public conflict of interest forms.

So, which is it? If the Dems and progressives put up a good enough fight, forcing Pope to spend more, will he over extend himself?

Or, is the picture that Pope has painted of being a simple little businessman making money off some discount stores just a ruse?

With Pope's influence on North Carolina politics - and his key position as Budget Director, which, as I pointed out in my post, includes more than just keeping books and actually managing audits, policies, and studies that drive how legislation is passed and money is spent - shouldn't the public know whether Pope is self delusional and narcissistic enough to throw away a good portion of his fortune on buying politicians or if he's not coming clean about his own finances?

Is the man who bought the NC state legislature and the governor's mansion merely a mentally ill man with a lot of money to throw around or is he a very sly crook?

Either answer could make Pope's house of cards collapse like the political Ponzi scheme that it is.