The video by Brave New Films about the Wake schools controversy is creating it own tussle. The video says Americans for Prosperity, led nationally by the billionaire Koch brothers, spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to promote resegregation and elect a conservative school board in 2009. Dallas Woodhouse, head of the NC chapter of Americans for Prosperity, says these claims are “bald-faced lies.” He says AFP didn’t spend a dime on direct political contributions or for nasty, “electioneering” attack ads, like those it sponsored in 2010 legislative races. However, as Sue Sturgis of the Institute for Southern Studies points out, AFP has been working for years to undermine public education in Wake County and its leaders brag that it deserves partial credit for helping anti-busing parents organize and fan discontent.
The video would be much stronger if it (1) acknowledged the genuine frustrations of parents over student reassignments, year after year, as the school system struggled to keep up with Wake’s incredible growth – ironically caused in part by the school system’s superior reputation; (2) described the investment of Raleigh retailer Art Pope in the multi-year crusade against public education, rather than ignore him for a national smackdown of the Koch brothers; and (3) linked that investment to the manipulation of grassroots dissent into enough momentum to elect ultra-conservatives in Republican-leaning districts to the school board.
Pope’s $15,000 donation to the Wake County Republican Party for the school board election in 2009 is well known, and rather limited, but his investment of $2.2 million through the Pope Foundation to Americans for Prosperity in the past six years seems to have escaped the Brave New Films producers. That’s a lot of money; no wonder Pope is one of the five national board members of AFP. It’s hard to know how much of this money came back to the North Carolina chapter, but it’s significant to see the two periods when Pope’s donations spiked: His foundation gave $425,000 from May through September 2006 when AFP-NC led a fevered, but unsuccessful campaign to defeat a Wake County school bond, and it gave $500,000 in June 2009 as the school board election was getting underway. Following the money, a line repeated in the video, would suggest that the real power behind AFP in North Carolina is not Dallas Woodhouse or the Koch brothers; it’s Art Pope.