Archive for September, 2011

LOD: The 40 Million Dollar Man

Friday, September 30th, 2011

The Oct. 10 edition of The New Yorker magazine features an in-depth look at North Carolina’s most politically powerful unelected individual – J. Arthur “Art” Pope, chain-store retailer and Republican patron. One measure of Pope’s power comes from an accounting of his political spending in a set of two charts prepared by Democracy North Carolina for The New Yorker. The charts detail over $40 million that Pope has steered into his favorite causes from his family, his family’s foundation (John W. Pope Foundation), and his family’s business (Variety Wholesaler, owner of the Rose’s, Maxway, and Super Dollar retail merchandise chains that cater to lower-income consumers).

    ● In the past 10 years, Pope has pumped $3 million into state and national politics and $35 million in a network of North Carolina nonprofit think tanks and advocacy groups that push a libertarian and ultra-conservative agenda.

    ● In addition to these funds, he has invested millions in national conservative organizations that he helps lead as a board member, trustee or advisor (see second part of chart of foundation grants). At the top of this list is a $2.2 million investment over the past decade in Americans for Prosperity, where Pope is one of the four board members along with its founder, David Koch. AFP is credited with financing and nurturing the national Tea Party movement; one of AFP’s strongest chapters is in North Carolina.

    ● Pope’s biggest investment by far has been in the John Locke Foundation, which he co-founded and helps direct from his board position; his family foundation accounts for $19.7 million or 79% of JLF’s $25.0 million income for FY 2001-2010.

    ● Pope is also a board member and the source of over 90% of the funds for the Pope Civitas Institute, named for his father ($8.0 million over the past decade); the NC Institute for Constitutional Law ($3.3 million); and Pope Center for Higher Education ($3.0 million).

    ● Pope family members frequently bundle their campaign contributions together, beginning the practice when Art’s father (John W. Pope, now deceased) was a prominent Republican donor. In the landmark 2010 election, Art provided NC General Assembly candidates with bundled contributions (totaling up to $16,000 per candidate) from himself, his wife, his mother, and his sister; 21 GOP legislative candidates received a total of $252,000 from these bundles in 2010.

    Another measure of Pope’s power comes from an analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies of his influence in the pivotal 2010 election. Along with his family’s donations to candidates, Pope helped lead and finance three organizations that spent money on mailers and attack ads in selected races; the combined investment totaled $2.2 million in 22 pivotal legislative contests. Republicans won 18 and took control of the General Assembly. Pope’s Variety Stores gave $470,000 to the three groups (Real Jobs NC, Civitas Action, and Americans for Prosperity), and Pope is an officer of each or its nonprofit, c-3 affiliate. The Institute is continuing its investigation of “Pope’s empire” on its special website, ArtPopeExposed.com.

   Former State Senator Marc Basnight, backed by the money of oil baron Walter Davis, reigned for many years as the state’s top political heavyweight – but Davis is dead, Basnight has retired from politics, and the NC General Assembly is now controlled by Republicans. Some thought North Carolina would never see another person with Basnight’s clout, but Art Pope could have a bright future as kingmaker and behind-the-curtain Wizard of GOP.

   You’re invited to sign a Democracy NC petition against the kind of corporate interference in public elections epitomized by Pope’s use of his corporation’s money.


LOD: Citizens United Kickback

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Two national campaign reform groups are asking the IRS to take away the tax-exempt status of 501(c)(4) organizations that are electioneering shells, not genuine “social welfare” organizations as required by law. The letter challenges four Republican- and Democratic-leaning non-profits. Democracy NC has promoted this approach to cope with the expanded use of non-profits after the Citizens United decision. Using c-4 and c-6 vehicles allows corporations and wealthy donors to remain unknown to the public, and many of them lower their tax bills by deducting their donations as business expenses. Art Pope’s Variety Stores may have done exactly that with the $470,000 it donated to Civitas Action, Americans for Prosperity and Real Jobs NC (a 527 organization) for electioneering in key 2010 legislative contests. Variety’s money only became known because North Carolina’s disclosure laws are stronger than those at the national level. Hopefully, the reform groups will continue to press their case and make these donations taxable gifts rather than tax dodges.



LOD: Voting Rights Defended

Monday, September 26th, 2011

For North Carolinians concerned about the maze of bills in the General Assembly designed to make voting harder, here’s a link to a Democracy NC factsheet that provides an update of each bill’s status. The NC General Assembly is set to reconvene in November, when it could take up any of these bills – or it could revive its anti-voter initiative in the short session next May. Meanwhile, in an important voting-rights decision, a U.S. District Court judge turned down a challenge that African-American voters no longer need the federal government to review changes in election procedures affecting Section 5 jurisdictions – which include all of Alabama (where the case arose) and 40 counties in North Carolina. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires federal “pre-clearance” of election changes to prevent intentional or unintentional racial bias in areas with a history of discrimination. The judge made a point of saying that the 17,000 pages placed in the record when Congress reauthorized the VRA in 2006 demonstrated that the law was still relevant and constitutional. Opponents of voting-rights protections have a series of cases in the pipeline to challenge Section 5 and other provisions in the Voting Rights Act, and this case will likely reach the US Supreme Court, where the opponents have some sympathizers, they hope a majority.


LOD: The Biggest NC PACs

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

A series of charts and analysis by the NC FreeEnterprise Foundation provides an excellent profile of the largest PACs giving to NC General Assembly contests in 2010. PACs supplied nearly $10 million of the $33.3 million raised by legislative candidates in 2010, and they balanced their donations fairly evenly between Democrats and Republicans, in contrast to the past tilt toward Democratic incumbents. Sorted by industry, PACs in the utility and telecom business led all others, followed by the health-care sector. Progress Energy and Duke Energy ranked in the top 10 for PACs giving to legislative candidates, and their combined $591,000 would make them number 1, edging out the trial attorney’s NC Advocates for Justice. Lots of interesting material here. . . .


LOD: Citizens United Update

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Two more developments in the evolving world after the Citizens United decision: One is a legislative response by the Congressional brain trust of Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD). They have introduced a bill that calls for an amendment to the US Constitution to give Congress and the states authority to regulate political spending by corporations. “It is individual voters who should determine the future of this nation, not corporate money,” said Conyers. The Conyers-Edward bill, first introduced last year, will likely not get very far under the GOP-controlled Congress, but it deserves support from Tea Party populists who oppose wealthy special-interest controlling government. In a second development, the New York Times notes that lower courts are using the Citizens United’s positive emphasis on the value of rapid disclosure to strike down rightwing attacks on various state laws requiring detailed reports from electioneering groups. If we’re stuck with corporate-funded politics, legislators in Washington and state capitals should be much more aggressive in demanding full disclosure of the real donors behind the big-time spenders with sweet sounding names like Americans for Apple Pie.


LOD: Target the Pressure

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Public Campaign has a good bi-partisan campaign that challenges members of the debt reduction Super Committee to stop raising money while they are choosing whose ox will be gored by possible spending cuts or tax increases. The nonprofit has calculated that each of the 12 Members has so much money already stockpiled that they can afford to take a break – collectively, their campaign accounts have $20 million in cash-on-hand. But even as the Committee began meeting, most of them kept up a vigorous fundraising schedule, hosting or attending $1,000-a-person events with lobbyists and their clients – it’s almost laughable to read. Public Campaign scored a victory with a pledge by one member, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), to embargo fundraising for his own campaign. He’s under pressure to stop helping others, too. The bi-partisan campaign is a great illustration of how a focused grassroots effort, with an incremental goal, can yield results.


LOD: Suing on the Money

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Anti-public financing lawyer James Bopp has filed a lawsuit to make North Carolina abandon part of the “voter-owned elections” program for state judicial candidates. It’s the part that awards candidates in the public program extra money if their privately financed opponents spend beyond a certain limit. But the US Supreme Court has already ruled that a similar matching funds provision in Arizona is illegal, and NC regulators say they have no intent of using the NC version of the provision. In fact, on Thursday, the State Board of Elections ordered the Town of Chapel Hill to abandon the provision in its program for municipal candidates in 2011. So why did Bopp file his lawsuit? Maybe he wants to make a point: He had challenged this provision years ago and the federal courts repeatedly ruled against him and his client, the NC Right to Life organization. But now that Chief Justice John Roberts is in charge, facts and precedent matter less than ideology and politics. As a result, James Bopp has been on a roll; he’s the same attorney who brought the Citizens United case to the Supremes. In his current suit against North Carolina, he also wants to collect attorney’s fees – and some say his suit may just be a way to get a judge to award him a million dollars or more for the expenses of his previous NC suits that failed. Hmm . . . J. Bopp, a publicly financed lawyer.



LOD: Wall Street Sit-In

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

What happens on September 17? According to an insider, New York’s Wall Street will be “occupied” by an army of rebellious dissidents determined to attack corporate greed and the grip of big money over the nation’s political economy. Who knew? A crowd of 20,000 “leaderless” rebels will camp out and cripple Wall Street as others occupy major financial capitals across the world. “One thing we all have in common is that we are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%,” according to posts on the Occupy Wall Street website. The corrupting role of corporate money in politics is an overarching theme, and overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is a central demand. Will it be heard?


LOD: Koch/Pope Audio

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Mother Jones magazine has released an audio tape of an exclusive retreat of hard-right millionaires, convened by the now infamous Koch brothers. During the event’s activities, Charles Koch spent a few minutes saluting about 30 donors who had contributed at least a million dollars each in the previous 12 months to the Kochs’ causes – and there was North Carolina’s own Art Pope on the list (and likely in the Vail, Colorado, audience ). In a second installment of its audio-expose, MJ reveals the guts of a speech New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gave the crowd where he declares it’s time to “take on” public school teachers’ and their union, reduce Medicare and Medicaid benefits, raise the Social Security eligibility age, and cut “all types of government programs.”


LOD: Perry and His Super Donors

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Here are recent links for those of you interested in the money behind the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for President, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and the favors he’s done for his big donors. As with other candidates, his new Super PAC could dwarf what he raises himself for the nomination. The Washington Post weighs in on the dangers of these Super PACs, which aren’t independent of the candidate but obvious end runs around the law. Will the FEC or Congress or the courts step in? Not without huge public pressure.