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Art Pope 3Among the many topics on which Gov. McCrory has made repeated misleading statements and told downright whoppers in recent months, none has been more frequently front and center than unemployment insurance. Time and again, the Guv has claimed that the state did not take away benefits and/or that the reason for the cut off in federal emergency benefits was that it was President Obama’s fault for not granting North Carolina an exemption or allowing the GOP legislature’s changes to be “grandfathered.”

As has been reported repeatedly, however, these claims are simply false. That’s why the Guv has had to issue clarifications and retractions on more than one occasion. The simple truth is that when Congress put extended emergency benefits in place as part of the economic recovery/stimulus law back in 2009, it told states that they could only continue to access those federally-funded benefits if they didn’t cut benefits and eligibility at the state level. This is a standard congressional practice used by leaders of both parties to help make sure that federal initiatives aren’t undercut by free-riding states with no skin in the game. Federal officials repeatedly told North Carolina this and warned them not to cut benefits lest they jeopardize the state’s participation in the federal emergency program.

The state’s response: A big raspberry. Despite the plain warning (and pleas from advocates to merely delay new cuts until 2014 so as not to run afoul of federal law), legislative leaders and Gov. McCrory plunged ahead with unprecedented cuts to benefits and eligibility that were quite possibly the largest in American history. As a result, the federal government was left with no choice but to abide by the congressional mandate and cut North Carolina off July 1.

So why does McCrory keep making the bizarre claim that it was the feds who are responsible for the cuts? We got a hint as to the answer to that question yesterday when State Budget Director Art Pope made his strange appearance at a protest outside his office organized by the NAACP and others.  Read More

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Art Pope 3The North Carolina NAACP and other activist groups will commence a series of informational pickets today to shine more light on the rather amazing breadth and depth of the influence of state budget director, Art Pope. The pickets will take place today at 4:00 p.m. outside two of the chain stores owned by Pope’s Variety Wholesalers, Maxway and Rose’s.

The Maxway event will take place at 1905 Poole Rd. in Raleigh. The Rose’s event will take place  at University Mall, 201-C36 Estes Dr. Chapel Hill.

According to an announcement:

“The informational picket campaign is a statewide effort to raise awareness and demand that Budget Director Pope call for a reversal of extremist laws and policies passed in the 2013 Legislative Session and support the request for a Special Redemption Session of the North Carolina General Assembly to reverse course on two extremist policies, the denial of Medicaid and emergency unemployment benefits that will harm the most vulnerable members of our state.”

Learn more at the event’s Facebook page by clicking here.

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Pat McCrory 2There was some confusion this week as to who was ultimately responsible for the appointment of Pope-Civitas Institute executive director Francis De Luca to the state Ethics Commission. De Luca’s own press release said the appointment was made by the Governor on the recommendation of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. At first blush, this statement seemed to conflict with the terms of the Ethics Act itself, which gives the Governor four appointments (all of which are already filled) and the General Assembly four (two each to the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem).  

The answer appears to lie in the fact that the General Assembly is not currently in session and therefore could not, technically, make a new appointment. In such circumstances, the Ethics Act references another state statute (G.S. 120-122) which vests the authority in the Governor to make the appointment upon the recommendation of the relevant legislative officer.

The bottom line: Things are even more depressing than they originally appeared. The head of a political attack group that produces malicious attack ads is now a member of the Board of the State Ethics Commission and both the Governor and the leader of the state Senate had a hand in making it happen.

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The Civitas Institute, a Raleigh-based conservative group, has filed a public records request for emails and correspondence of Gene Nichol, a tenured University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law professor who has been critical of McCrory Administration policies.

Gene Nichol

Gene Nichol

The public records request for Nichol’s emails was reported Thursday afternoon by Sue Sturgis of the Institute for Southern Studies, a group which has closely tracked spending by Art Pope, a wealthy Republican donor serving as McCrory’s budget director. Civitas is funded almost entirely by a family foundation run by Pope.

From Sturgis’ post:

The Raleigh, N.C.-based Civitas Institute wants the email correspondence, phone records, and calendars of Gene Nichol, director of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity and a Moral Monday protest participant. It seeks Nichols’ records during the period from Sept. 14 through Oct. 25, the day the request was filed. Civitas submitted the FOIA request the week after Nichol wrote a newspaper column critical of the McCrory administration.

FOIA laws were designed to ensure government information is available to the public. But in recent years, requests from conservative groups for the records of academics in Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin and Michigan have raised questions whether FOIA is being used for politically motivated harassment.

“For a crowd that talks so much about liberty, they sure love to shut people up,” Nichol told Facing South.

Civitas, which was also behind the controversial database of Moral Monday arrestees, filed the information request 11 days after Nichol published a column in The News & Observer of Raleigh in which he called North Carolina’s new election law imposing strict photo voter ID requirements and other limits on voting the “most oppressive in the nation” and likened Gov. Pat McCrory (R) to “a 21st century successor to Maddox, Wallace and Faubus,” referring to the segregationist governors of Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas.

To read more, click here.

Nichol is also a board member of the N.C. Justice Center, an anti-poverty non-profit that N.C. Policy Watch is a part of.

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(Updated – See comment #1 below)The stories are coming so thick and fast that it’s getting harder and harder to shock caring and thinking North Carolinians with tales of laugh-out-loud malfeasance and the elevation of political operatives to positions of power and influence in North Carolina’s far-right state government.  

Francis De LucaStill, it’s fair to say that a lot of eyebrows had to have been raised in Raleigh yesterday with the appointment by state Senate Leader Phil Berger of Francis De Luca, the head of one of the state’s most aggressive conservative advocacy groups, the Pope-Civitas Institute, to, of all things, the Board of the State Ethics Commission. After all, as director of Pope-Civitas — a group funded almost exclusively by the family foundation of state Budget Director Art Pope — De Luca is paid to be a fire-breathing crusader for a very specific political agenda. What’s more, he also heads a 501(c)(4) political group — Civitas Action — that is dedicated to, among other things, producing slick (and in some cases, downright malicious) attack ads against disfavored political candidates. Click here to see some the group’s handiwork from 2010 and 2011. (To add to the irony of the whole thing, De Luca was appointed to take the place of another former Pope group employee, Les Merritt, who resigned because of a potential conflict of interest posed by his current $312,000 per year job in the McCrory administration).   

In addition to raising eyebrows, the appointment ought to raise legal questions as well. According to the State Government Ethics Act, Section 138A-7 (d)(3), Read More