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This morning’s edition of the Greenville Daily Reflector included this excellent editorial:

“The men and women arrested each week during the “Moral Monday” protests at the Legislative Building know they will face charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct and failure to disperse. Until recently, however, they could not expect that their name to land in an online database compiled by a right-wing advocacy group once funded by the state budget director.

The Civitas Institute, which maintains the listing on its website, is violating no law in compiling this public information and claims to be merely fighting back against the protesters’ message. But the organization’s connection to Art Pope, the conservative financier who Gov. Pat McCrory tapped to write the state budget, gives the database a more sinister overtone and makes the practice highly questionable.

As is now typical in Raleigh, a large crowd gathered on Monday night to decry the work of the Republican-led General Assembly. North Carolina Democrats and their supporters cannot halt legislation and therefore seek to offer a rhetorical counterpoint through protest and civil disobedience.

This week marked the 10th event, dubbed by the organizing NAACP as “Moral Mondays.” What began in small numbers now draws thousands to the Legislative Building, and more than 600 have submitted to arrest as a result of their deliberate action. Though the courts will determine the legal ramifications, peaceable assembly and the right to petition one’s government are both protected by the First Amendment.

The Civitas Institute, a nonprofit organization backing conservative policies, has a vested interest in seeing these protests fail….”

Read the rest by clicking here.

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In case you missed it, Billy Corriher, a native North Carolinian and current Associate Director of Research at Legal Progress– a branch of the Washington, DC-based Center for American Progress — has an excellent “For the record” essay in the Charlotte Observer.

How Art Pope killed a popular judicial financing program

This is the story of how one very wealthy man stopped a government program endorsed by three North Carolina governors (two Republicans and a Democrat), most of the judges from both parties on the state’s top courts, and hundreds of civic and business leaders. Read More

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Sue Sturgis over at the Institute for Southern Studies has a new story out about the Pope-Civitas Institute’s latest intimidation tactic toward legislative protesters.

“The John W. Pope Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh, N.C., has launched a database targeting people who’ve been arrested as part of the Moral Monday nonviolent protests at the state legislature.

The Civitas Institute was founded by conservative mega-donor and discount-retail mogul Art Pope, now the North Carolina budget director under Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, and it was named for Pope’s father. The nonprofit gets about 94 percent of its funding from the family foundation Pope chairs. That raises questions about the ethics of a public official who’s been a target of the protests being involved in an apparent effort to target the protesters for harassment — or worse.”

No word yet on whether the effort is being coordinated with the group’s chief funder (i.e. the state budget ), legislative leaders or other far right groups, but as Sturgis reports, the tactic is reminiscent of the one’s used by the reactionary opponents of the Civil Rights movement, so nothing would come as a surprise.

Read the entire story by clicking here.

 

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The News & Observer had another interesting read from over the weekend, a two-part series by investigative reporter Andrew Curliss about the N.C Rural Center.

The Rural Center has traditionally been funded at the tune of $25 million a year by the N.C. General Assembly but is facing considerable uncertainly in current budget negotiations.

Curliss’ first piece (available here) looked at the how money flowed through the center to create low-wage jobs at big-box stores and that the “jobs created numbers” used by the center weren’t accurate.

His Sunday piece (click here) looked at the politics of the center, and how longtime director Billy Ray Hall has run the organization paying special attention to legislators and the politically powerful, including waiving the rules for a movie theater in state Sen. Tommy Tucker’s district and grant money that benefited Gov. Pat McCrory’s  budget director Art Pope’s family business.

From the article:

Officially, the nonprofit N.C. Rural Economic Development Center awards “job generating” grants, funded by state taxpayers, to nondescript government agencies. The city of Rocky Mount. Montgomery County. The town of Indian Trail.

From the center’s files, other stories emerge: Legislators influencing where the money goes. People and businesses from across the political landscape getting in on the deals. Political money men benefiting from taxpayer cash, spent with little notice or scrutiny.

One of the biggest names: Discount store business Variety Wholesalers, whose CEO, Art Pope, is a well-known supporter of nonprofit groups that criticize taxpayer subsidies for businesses. A former Republican legislator, he’s now Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director.

One of the best connected: Bob Jordan, the former Democratic lieutenant governor who helped start the Rural Center and was a longtime board member. His company was recently part of a grant, but then backed out.

Curliss’ article also referenced a 2012 N.C. Policy Watch report about a Rural Center grant that state Rep. Tim Moore received but later backed out of to expand his law practice.

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Chris Kromm has a must-read post today over at Facing South, the blog of the Institute for Southern Studies entitled “How Art Pope killed clean elections for judges in North Carolina.” 

Art Pope 3“On the afternoon of Tuesday, June 11, as the North Carolina House jousted over details of the state budget, Rep. Jonathan Jordan, a Republican attorney from the state’s mountain region, decided to help the legislature reach a compromise on a thorny problem.

At issue was the N.C. Public Campaign Fund, a popular program launched in 2003 to help free judges from relying on deep-pocketed — and potentially compromising — special interest donors to get elected. 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. Read More