Since the Left, and the Democrats beholden to them, lost their grip on total power in North Carolina’s General Assembly in 2010, followed by Gov. Pat McCrory’s victory in 2012, they have largely attributed their political exile to the spending of wealthy conservative entrepreneur Art Pope.
Longtime PBS mouthpiece Bill Moyers amplified the charge in a one-hour program that aired over the weekend. He had no interest in the Tar Heel state during his 40-plus years in journalism, when Democrats overwhelmingly controlled the power, but now he thinks Republicans in charge for two years is a big deal.
North Carolina leftists are obsessed with Pope, who has contributed millions to conservative causes, candidates, and the state Republican Party. The Institute for Southern Studies, a progressive site, has created ArtPopeExposed.com (where even I have been targeted). In 2011, after the General Assembly turnover, Jane Mayer wrote an often-linked New Yorker hit piece titled “State for Sale.” Last year — the first in over 100 years in which the legislature and governorship were under complete GOP leadership — liberal groups, led by the NC NAACP, protested at the Legislative Building on a weekly basis, and also held smaller rallies throughout the state. They called the demonstrations “Moral Mondays.”
They had many gripes. Groups and activists representing unions, minority groups, public education, public employees, pro-abortion, and other far-left causes gathered to protest legislation that instituted voter ID, reduced excessive unemployment benefits, reined in overregulation of businesses, established merit pay for teachers and eliminated tenure, expanded charter schools, created education vouchers for poor students, opened the door to natural gas drilling, and implemented higher standards for abortion providers. Those and a host of other measures made the heads of big government aficionados explode.
For this turnabout, the libs mostly blamed Pope. They didn’t like the fact that his family foundation has invested about $5 million annually in public policy groups that promote free markets and limited government, and that he personally has supported candidates and political groups generously to bring about the reforms that he believes will help the poor become more self-sufficient rather than further dependent on government.
But while Pope’s giving has been significant, the notion that he has “bought” a state that was “for sale” is absurd. Had Moyers or Jane Mayer (who was also featured extensively in the PBS special) sought to paint an accurate picture of North Carolina’s political scene, they would have reported that left-of-center foundations and donors fund their policy groups and candidates to a much greater extent than has Pope. Instead they excluded that information — intentionally.
When Mayer pieced together her New Yorker report in 2011, she contacted John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation (and my employer until 2007). As Hood explained, Democrat legislative candidates in 2010 enjoyed a $2 million advantage in funding over their Republican counterparts — roughly $16 million to $14 million. Hood also said he informed Mayer that the largest grantmaker to NC public policy nonprofits is the Winston-Salem-based Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, which the previous year gave $6.7 million to liberal groups, compared to the Pope Foundation’s $5.7 million to the Locke Foundation, Civitas Institute, and other conservative nonprofits. And as the Pope Foundation pointed out in its rebuttal to the Moyers program, in 2011 alone Z. Smith Reynolds and other foundations gave between $10 million and $11 million to such groups, while the Pope Foundation — virtually alone in conservative grantmaking in the Tar Heel state — gave $5 million.
“I provided Mayer with a list of the grant recipients and encouraged her to give her readers an accurate picture,” Hood wrote in October 2011. “She chose not to report any of these details… that speaks volumes.”
Also undermining the notion that the 2010 Republican legislative takeover represented a Pope purchase of political offices is the fact that they won districts that had been gerrymandered by Democrats in the early 2000s. So NC GOP candidates were disadvantaged in both money and district design, yet they still ousted the Dems from majority power.
Also unmentioned is that the top media outlets in North Carolina are owned or directed by top donors to liberal causes and candidates. Jim Goodmon is president and CEO of Capitol Broadcasting, owner of the most influential television station for news and political reporting in the state: WRAL. He and his wife, Barbara, also oversee the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which funds many of the same liberal groups as the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Since the 2008 campaign cycle, the Goodmons have donated more than $157,000 to the Democratic Party and its candidates.
Likewise, the state’s two largest circulation newspapers — the Charlotte Observer and the News & Observer of Raleigh — are owned by The McClatchy Company. The N&O had a long history of left-of-center reporting under the ownership of the Daniels family, and that legacy has not detoured under current ownership. Chairman Kevin McClatchy gave $152,800 to the Democratic National Committee since 2004, and $14,600 for President Obama and his inauguration in 2008. And the Greensboro News & Record and the Winston-Salem Journal was recently acquired by a company owned by Obama pal and supporter Warren Buffett. So the liberal outcries about Art Pope owning a monopoly on the powers of persuasion over North Carolina voters, much less candidates, ring hollow.
Rather than embark on a thorough fact-finding mission about the southern state in which he had newfound interest, Moyers instead depended heavily on a half-axed hatchet job by the New Yorker’s Mayer. The production also leaned on the TV-friendly spectacle of aging hippies from Chapel Hill decked out in the colors of the rainbow, singing songs of protest and voluntarily getting arrested for civil disobedience at the Capitol.
It was tailor-made for a PBS partisan hit, but reflected reality not-at-all.