The third Koch brother?

Art Pope 3This is from this morning’s Washington Post:

“The third Koch ‘brother’ hits North Carolina


There’s something rotten in the state of North Carolina — and it smells like money. Specifically, Art Pope’s money.

In fact, Pope and his cash are responsible for North Carolina’s recent meteoric rise as the poster child for regressive, conservative politics.

As the head of Variety Wholesalers (a family-run discount store holding company) and the $150 million Pope Family Foundation, he has invested in an array of think tanks and advocacy groups dedicated to aggressively aligning the state’s political terrain with his business interests. Gov. Pat McCrory, whose campaign he bankrolled, recently named Pope to the powerful post of state budget director.

Pope is, for all intents and purposes, North Carolina’s third, lesser known, Koch brother. In fact, he’s attended the Koch Brothers’ planning summits and considers himself their close ally.

In 2010, Pope’s organizations spent $2.2 million dollars on 22 state legislature races, and won 18 of them. In fact, outside groups backed by Pope accounted for 75 percent of independent spending in those races. In 2012, Pope and his affiliated groups again spent over $2 million on the election, leading to a Republican supermajority in the General Assembly, and putting McCrory in the governor’s mansion.

In the dystopian world of Citizens United, Art Pope’s $2.2 million dollars feels like chump change—and on a national scale, it is. Sheldon Adelson alone spent $150 million in 2012. But in one state, that $2.2 million dollars 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.

So, having bought and paid for key seats, Pope and his conservative cronies are fighting every progressive policy North Carolina has enacted. Their efforts could lead to a rollback of crucial gains.

Conservative legislators want to dilute the influence of minority voters by curtailing early voting, ending Sunday registration and enacting unnecessary voter ID laws. It’s a sequel to 2010’s gerrymandering. The American Prospect recently reported that though a majority of North Carolina voters picked a Democrat for the House in 2012, “thanks to where those voters had been placed, Republicans won 9 of the state’s 13 House seats.”

Public education is being gutted. As Jane Mayer reported in the New Yorker, despite overwhelming support, the legislature repealed the pennysalestax that went towards public education funding. Even the state’s prized University of North Carolina system is facing some $50 million in budget cuts.

Unsurprisingly, and unconscionably, Governor McCroy has refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, even though it would insure half a million North Carolinians. Instead, the state Health and Human Services Department is looking to privatize Medicaid, which will ultimately raise costs and reduce care.

Despite a 9.2 percent jobless rate—well above the national average of 7.9 percent — North Carolina is cutting back on unemployment benefits. Last week, the state legislature repealed a first-in-the-nation law that allowed inmates on death row to challenge their sentencing based on racial factors. Without a hint of irony, state Republicans claimed that the law was unfair — turning a blind eye to the systemic racial injustice and inequality that plagues capital punishment trials.

But Pope’s money cannot silence the sound of outraged North Carolinians who have had enough. The NAACP has organized a diverse coalition of religious leaders, farmers, teachers, doctors, veterans – people from all walks of life – to rally at the steps of the General Assembly in Raleigh. These “Moral Mondays” protests are against attempts to eliminate the fundamental building blocks of a fair society: voting rights, public school funding, access to healthcare, unemployment insurance and racial equality. The state legislature is facing an abysmal 25 percent approval rating – which means that their extremism won’t go unchecked.

Unfortunately, one-man political machines — right-wing billionaires using their outsize influence to control states and rollback hard-earned rights — are not new. The Koch brothers effectively bankrolled Scott Walker’s public union-busting policies and subsequent recall victory in Wisconsin. But North Carolina is showing us that this is just the beginning.

Republican donors know that this strategy produces a high return on investment. For just a few million dollars, not only can they affect state policies, they can control electoral laws and redraw districts — rigging the deck before it even gets to Washington.

With money to burn, Pope and his cronies are on their way to turning state after state into regressive backwaters while using their bucks to drown out the voices of anyone who disagrees with them. It all happens right under our noses because state legislature races almost never make the cover of The Post or the headlines on CNN.

If states are, as Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “the laboratories of democracy,” then Art Pope is a mad scientist—turning North Carolina into his own personal monster. It’s time for everybody who cares about preserving America’s democratic ideals to pay attention.

Read more from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s archive or follow her on Twitter.”


  1. sundance

    June 11, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Pope is a former board member of the Koch’s Americans for Prosperity.

  2. Doug

    June 11, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    You guys go on about Pope and his $150 million. Heck the progressives have Soros sending his goons down here to give the illusion that Moron Mondays are a happening thing. How is Pope really supposed to compete with a billionaire like Soros? And I don’t see you guys highlighting him as the mover and shaker behind the leftist causes. Actually…..anyone wonder how many of those “contributors” to the Crotch are funded by Soros? At least Pope is from NC and has some kind of skin in the game…much better than a foreign source of funds that you have to wonder what his true motive is.

  3. RJ

    June 11, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Might we be going on and on because, unlike George Soros, Mr. Pope is the STATE BUDGET DIRECTOR? Soros, blah blah, foreigner blah blah blah, impure motives blah blah blah, goons blah blah blah. Keep f’in’ that chicken, Doug.

  4. Jack

    June 12, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Pope may be from NC but the Koch brothers are outsiders agitators, to use the Governor’s words.

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