How did one of the more progressive states in the South turn into a laughingstock in just months?
More than anyone, Art Pope deserves credit.
After President Obama won the state in 2008, “Pope, his family, his company, and the network of outside political groups he’s affiliated with — Americans for Prosperity, Civitas Action, and Real Jobs NC — spent a total of over $2.2 million in the 2010 election cycle to elect Republican state lawmakers,” according to Facing South. As a result, Republicans won state houses in North Carolina for the first time in more than a century.
Two years later, Pope and his interests spent another $2 million, helping Pat McCrory become governor. In one of his first moves as governor, McCrory named Pope his budget director.
Since then, Republicans have been on a rampage, waging a war on the state’s voting rights, education system, women’s health and the unemployed. Along the way the governor has broken campaign promises and the legislature sneaked anti-choice legislation into bills on Sharia law and motorcycle safety before they danced a little jig and adjourned for the summer.
This overreach has resulted in disapproval from voters and sparked the Moral Mondays movement, resulting in hundreds of protesters being arrested.
But Art Pope is getting exactly what he bargained for — his radical agenda being enacted without delay.
Here are five things you need to know about Art Pope
He’s The Kochs’ Little Brother From Another Mother
Generally millionaires who get involved in politics try to keep their fingerprints off actual legislation. Pope has no such fear.
“This would be like a President Romney appointing the Koch brothers as his directors of the EPA and IRS,” wrote Progressive Pulse‘s Rob Schofield, on McCrory appointing Pope — a very generous donor to the governor’s campaign — to write North Carolina’s budget.
Pope, the CEO of Variety Wholesalers, is the second largest contributor to the Kochs’ “social welfare” non-profit Americans for Prosperity.
He Singlehandedly Killed Public Financing Of Judges
If you want to know what Art Pope’s nightmare is, look at the NC Public Campaign Fund, a pioneering public financing program for judges that Pope helped kill.
“Eighty percent of eligible judges — conservatives and liberals — used the voluntary program, which awarded candidates a grant to help run their campaign if they raised at least 350 small donations and agreed to strict spending limits,” according to Facing South.
The goal, of course, was to limit the role that special interests could play in the judicial process.
Earlier this year, Rep. Jonathan Jordan (R-Jefferson) proposed a compromise amendment in the Senate, designed to save the widely praised program.
“Then Art Pope showed up,” Facing South reports.
Jordan pulled his amendment. Coincidentally, Pope and his family had given $16,000 to Jordan’s campaign. The maximum amount allowed under law.
He’s Behind The Attack On Voter Rights
You have to thank Art Pope and North Carolina’s Republicans for exposing how so-called voter “integrity” laws are blatant attempts to disenfranchise Democratic voters, who often come from the groups that are supposed to be protected by the now-weakened Voting Rights Act.
In addition to voter ID, North Carolina’s GOP passed page after page of restrictions that have no purpose besides making it harder to vote.
“You can take these 57 pages of abomination and confine them to the streets of Hell for all eternity,”Rep. Mickey Michaux (D-Durham) told The Nation‘s Ari Berman. In addition, the elections boards on the state and local levels have been actively closing polling places frequented by Democrats and throwing out the residency of students who have lived in the state for years.
Facing South took a look at Pope’s activities and found that he played the key role in ginning up the false fear of voter fraud, creating a platform for those supporting suppression, backing the lawmakers behind the legislation and helping Republicans win the state.
This effort is just insurance on the investments he’s made in the past few decades. You don’t just buy a state government and then let the voters judge their performance. No, you put them in office and they protect against any opinion except your own.
Photo: hjl via Flickr.com
His Associates Are Trying To Intimidate Protesters
The Civitas Institute is a Pope-funded “charity” founded by Art Pope. The group says it’s trying shine a light on the “extremists” who have been arrested opposing the Pope agenda. They’re playing up discrepancies between what the protesters told the police and their voter registration. Such discrepancies often occur when people do nefarious things like move. Clearly, the attempt is to shame and bring scorn on those who are making themselves obstacles to the Republican agenda.
Progressives see a dark echo in what Civitas is doing to a tactic from the civil rights era.
“Civitas’ database brings to mind another troubling episode of mid-20th century U.S. history: how in some Southern cities at that time the white-supremacist White Citizens’ Councils (WCC) would publish in local newspapers the names of NAACP supporters and those who signed anti-segregation petitions in order to encourage retaliation against them,” Facing South noted. “The WCCs, like Civitas, also had close ties to powerful government officials.”
Photo: Screenshot of Civitas Institute website
If This Works, He’s Proven That You Can Buy A State Pretty Cheaply
“In the dystopian world of Citizens United, Art Pope’s $2.2 million feels like chump change — and on a national scale, it is,” Katrina vanden Heuvel wrote. “Sheldon Adelson alone spent $150 million in 2012. But in one state, that $2.2 million can buy a whole ticket’s worth of legislators. That’s the only way to push back against the undeniable demographic shifts that have made North Carolina a battleground state in the last two presidential elections.”
Of course, Pope and his associates are spending millions of dollars in each election. And millions more in between, setting up institutions that support his agenda.
But all in all, it’s a fraction of his fortune. Buying an election shouldn’t be this easy. Pope’s only fear seems to be that someone else could buy it away from him. That explains the rush to implement the agenda and the obvious attempt to pull up the rope ladder before someone else figures it out.
The 2014 election will be the test to see if safe districts and voter suppression are enough to hedge against an enraged electorate.
Apparently, national Republicans think it might be. They barely mention picking up Kay Hagan’s seat, even though she’s a Democratic U.S. senator in a state that went for Romney. Even they get that it’s pretty tough to gerrymander a whole state.