BEHIND THE SCENES POWER PLAYER: Art Pope is one of the most powerful political operatives in North Carolina, with growing national ambitions. Despite his growing influence, the public knows little about who he is or what he does.
POPE'S FAMILY FORTUNE: Pope’s fortune comes from his passed-down family business, the discount retail chain Variety Wholesalers, Inc. Variety Wholesalers owns Maxway and Roses, which it bought out of bankruptcy, and several other smaller stores. In locating its stores, Variety Wholesalers openly targets areas where the median household income is $40,000 or less and with a minimum 25 percent African-American population within five miles.
BANKROLLING THE RIGHT: An Institute for Southern Studies investigation revealed that the John William Pope Foundation, which Art Pope chairs, supplies more than 85 percent of the income of the leading right-wing groups in North Carolina. He also sits on the board of many of the groups, giving him an unusual level of purse-string and organizational control.
KOCH JR.: Art Pope is a close ally of billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch, and is a regular invitee of the Koch's secretive gatherings of wealthy political operatives. The Pope Foundation funds many of the same right-wing groups as the Kochs. Pope is one of four national directors of the Koch's Americans for Prosperity, and Pope's family foundation is the AfP Foundation's second largest institutional backer.
BUYING POLITICAL INFLUENCE: Pope has spent millions of dollars to influence elections. In 2010, three groups backed by Pope -- Americans for Prosperity, Civitas Action and Real Jobs NC -- spent 75% of the outside money that flooded into two dozen North Carolina legislative races. Combined with the $252,000 Pope family members spent supporting Republicans in those races, their money fueled the GOP's historic capture of the state legislature.
TEA PARTY TIES: Pope's groups have partnered with some of the most controversial elements of the Tea Party, including Tea Party Express -- a group which had to fire its director for making racially-charged statements and has been at the center of other controversies. When Florida doctor David McKalip forwarded an image of Obama as an African witchdoctor in 2009 to protest "Obamacare" -- a move McKalip admitted was "completely inappropriate" -- Tea Party Express didn't condemn the act; they invited McKalip to be a featured speaker. Yet Americans for Prosperity still went on to partner with Tea Party Express at events across the country.
FUNDING CLIMATE DENIAL: Pope's network has been the most outspoken voice of climate-science denial in North Carolina, serving as a valuable ally to the Koch brothers nationally. A report released last year by Greenpeace documented how the Kochs contributed more than $48.5 million over a decade to what the environmental group refers to as the "climate denial machine" -- organizations dedicated to sowing doubt about human-caused global warming. An Institute for Southern Studies analysis found that Pope's family foundation made generous contributions to the same climate-denial network -- more than $24.1 million in all.
MORE ON POPE'S INFLUENCE AND AGENDA: This downloadable flyer from Democracy NC explains how Pope uses his influence to push an agenda that's often at odds with the interests of his African-American and low-income customer base.