Last Thursday, Facing South published an in-depth look at Republican donor Art Pope and the unusual level of control he enjoys over a network of conservative nonprofits in North Carolina.
This was our second piece on Pope, a quiet figure who has splashed into the news after funding hard-hitting attack ads against N.C. Democrats this election season and for his leadership in right-wing groups like Americans for Prosperity, an early instigator of the Tea Party movement.
As we noted, North Carolina conservatives resent any suggestion that they are beholden to Pope, and it appears our piece last week was no exception.
First, a quick recap: A Facing South analysis of tax records found that a foundation chaired by Art Pope supplies about 90 percent of the income of leading conservative nonprofits in North Carolina.
Of the five groups we profiled -- Capitol Monitor*, The John W. Pope Civitas Institute, the John Locke Foundation, the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law and the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy -- Art Pope also sits on the board of all except one (Capitol Monitor*).
(*UPDATE 10/19 10pm: The N.C. Independent News reports that Pope has "shut down" Capitol Monitor; they further report that "Sources in the capital said [editor Perri] Morgan left after resisting pressure to make the site more partisan." When asked about that, Morgan said, "I'm not going to confirm or deny it.")
Because they rely so heavily on the Pope Foundation, all but one of the conservative groups -- in this case, the Locke Foundation -- are classified by the IRS as "private foundations," a rare designation reserved for groups who rely on a sole benefactor. (Only six percent of nonprofits nationally are classified this way.)
Shortly after our piece appeared, the North Carolina Independent News asked John Hood -- president of the Locke Foundation -- about Facing South's findings. Hood was dismissive, saying "This is an attempt to change the debate from the issues to character assassination."
Hood did go on to make a substantive claim, contending that the same charges of undue influence could be leveled against progressive nonprofits in North Carolina, many of which are supported by the liberal-leaning Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. As N.C. Independent News reports:
Hood questioned why the media has not raised similar control issues concerning the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a contributor to the Institute for Southern Studies and the Justice Center.
But an analysis of tax and organizational records reveals that North Carolina's progressive groups operate much differently than their conservative counterparts in the state.
Take the group Hood mentions, the North Carolina Justice Center -- the state's largest liberal advocacy group. It's true that the Justice Center does receive significant funding from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation; however, it's a much smaller share of their total income than that seen among conservative groups and the Pope Foundation.
Here's a chart comparing how much Civitas, Locke and the Justice Center rely on their largest foundation supporters:
Click image for larger version
In others words, even the conservative group that relies on the Pope Foundation the least -- the John Locke Foundation -- depends on the Pope family 215 percent more than the Justice Center relies on Z. Smith Reynolds.
The Institute for Southern Studies, publisher of Facing South, has never received more than 35 percent of its annual income from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
As for the people, Leslie Winner -- a former Democratic state senator who directs Z. Smith Reynolds -- isn't on the boards of either the Justice Center or the Institute for Southern Studies (although Anita Brown-Graham, one of Z. Smith Reynolds' 12 trustees, does sit on the board of the Justice Center).
Both the Institute for Southern Studies and the N.C. Justice Center are recognized as "public charities" by the IRS, because they draw on a diverse funding base.
Winner also argues that the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation operates in a way distinct from the Pope Foundation. As she tells N.C. Independent News, at Z. Smith Reynolds, the 12-person board "makes all the decisions" about which groups receive funding; Winner and most of the board members are not Reynolds family members.
At the Pope Foundation, it appears Art Pope plays a more central role in steering the foundation's resources. Art Pope is both president of the Pope Foundation and chairman of its four-person board, which includes his sisters Amanda and Joyce, as well as "close family friend" David Stover. One close observer tells Facing South that Art Pope "pretty much runs" the Pope Foundation; in the words of John Hood, Art Pope "oversees the family's philanthropic pursuits."
Together, these pieces of evidence echo the themes in Facing South's original report: However independent North Carolina's conservative groups claim to be, in the end they are arranged in a way that affords an unusually high level of control to North Carolina's influential conservative benefactor, Art Pope.