Democratic oppo researchers should surf over to Facing South, and read some of Kris Kromm’s excellent reportage on the increasingly influential conservative benefactor (and former state legislator) Art Pope, who was instrumental in the GOP’s 2010 sweep in NC. In October Facing South joined with the Institute for Southern Studies and began a series of investigative reports about “the scope and nature of Pope’s political empire.” Among the revelations, according to Kromm:
…About 90 percent of the funding of the state’s leading conservative think tanks and advocacy groups comes from Pope’s family foundation, which he runs. Pope is also installed on the board of directors of most of these groups.
…Three groups backed by Pope — Americans for Prosperity, Civitas Action and Real Jobs NC — joined with Pope family members to spend over $2.2 million targeting 22 key state races last November. Republicans won 18 of the contests.
…Pope’s groups have worked closely with the Tea Party Express, whose leaders have been widely condemned for making racially-charged statements, and Pope’s foundation has funded many groups that deny the scientific consensus about global climate change.
…Pope has taken a leading role in the right’s crusade against “voter fraud.” But the groups he supports still can’t prove it’s a real problem.
…North Carolina conservative groups founded and largely funded by Republican benefactor Art Pope are calling for an end to the state’s widely-used ‘clean elections’ program. Maybe it’s because Pope’s record-shattering spending in 2010 was so successful in fueling the GOP’s capture of the state legislature.
The Facing South investigation of Pope’s influence and activities is obviously important for Dems in formulating strategy for the 2012 election. Many political observers were surprised at the extent of the GOP’s lavishly-funded takeover of the NC state legislature in 2010. NC’s African Americans (25.3 per cent of the state population) and research triangle progressives were instrumental in Obama’s 2008 victory the tarheel state. But it’s a safe assumption that Art Pope will use all of the considerable resources at his command to put the state back in the GOP column next year. He could make a pivotal difference nationally, since NC ranks 10th in electoral college votes ( tied with GA and NJ) among the 50 states.
Pope’s economic empire is rooted in his Variety Wholesalers chain, which includes Roses, Super Dollar, Value Mart and Maxway, bargain retail outlets that are familiar to southern shoppers, and now reportedly targeted for boycotts by the state Democratic party. According to Andrew Whalen, the executive director of the NC Dems, “Pope’s company, Variety Wholesalers, has directed hundreds of thousands of dollars – profits taken from hard-working North Carolinians who shop at his stores – to fund organizations that attack Democratic candidates.” (More on Variety Wholesaler stores here)