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Art Pope Perfectly Embodies the Toxic Nature of Money in Politics

J. Mijin Cha

If there’s one thing you can say about Art Pope, North Carolina’s mega-donor, it’s that he is a man on a mission. Unfortunately, his mission is to use his wealth to make voting more difficult and restrictive and continue the outsized role money plays in politics.

A new investigation from the Institute for Southern Studies shows how Pope used his money to influence public debate and perception, intimidate potential voters, and helped get extreme conservatives elected. The result was North Carolina’s anti-voter Monster Law—a law that is stunning in its attacks on voting rights, including repealing pre-registration of 16 and 17 year olds, ending same day registration, shortening the early voting period, and enacting a strict photo ID law.

One of Pope’s many tactics was to use two nonprofits—Civitas and the John Locke Foundation—to spread the fear of voter fraud. The two organizations published more than 50 articles, op-eds and blog posts warning of voter fraud and calling for a strict photo ID law, ending same-day registration, and a shorter early voting period (sound familiar?) to fight against voter fraud. Voter fraud is a non-existent problem in the state and, in general, does not occur. Civitas receives over 99 percent of its funding from Pope and the John Locke Foundation receives around 80 percent of its operating budget from Pope, not to mention he is on both organizations’ boards of directors. The John Lock Foundation and Civitas also prominently featured the work of Jay DeLancy and his Voter Integrity Project of NC, which attempts to remove people from voting rolls.

The Institute for Southern Studies further documents how much money Pope and his associated organizations gave to candidates that then when on to support the Monster Bill. In total, Pope, his family, and his affiliated groups spent over $4 million on the 2010 and 2012 elections, helping the GOP win supermajorities in both chambers and the governor’s office. Not only did the supermajority just conclude a session that was an all-out attack on working families and democracy, Republicans are now in control of redistricting with Pope serving as an adviser to the process.

What is perhaps most unsettling is that every tactic that Pope used in North Carolina is perfectly legal. All the money that he, his family, and affiliated organizations spent, appointing him to be an adviser to the redistricting process—all legal.

And, going forward, his sponsored candidates are likely to vote according to Pope’s ideals for fear of losing his financial support, which means that politics in the state are literally dictated by one man and his bank account. How is this democracy?