Pope preaches self-reliance, took $330,000 loan from mom and dad to run for office

Writer Jane Mayer follows up on her widely-circulated profile of Art Pope in The New Yorker with a blog post pointing to a seeming contradiction in Pope's political philosophy. The North Carolina right-wing powerbroker, in line with his anti-government philosophy, is big on preaching self-reliance and castigating others for "dependence."

But when Pope needed help to run for office in 1992, staunch individualism and an Ayn Rand fetish didn't stop him from taking $330,000 worth of campaign loans -- more than $530,000 in today's dollars, never repaid -- so he could run for office. What's more, Pope's network is now trying to abolish a state program that makes running for office more affordable in North Carolina.

Here's a chart of the loans John W. and Mrs. John W. Pope made in 1992 to son Art's campaign committee, Art Pope for N.C. House, according to N.C. State Board of Elections records. Art Pope vacated his house seat in his bid for the Republican Lt. Governor nomination.


As Mayer notes, Pope likes to project the image of the self-made man. He insists that he didn't inherit his father's discount retail business, Variety Wholesalers, but had to buy into it (which, of course, doesn't mean he didn't get family help in other ways).

But the massive loan Pope's parents gave him to run for office undercuts the up-from-his-own-bootstraps storyline. Mayer observes:

[It's] more than a technicality. Pope’s political philosophy revolves around extreme individualism and self-reliance, rejecting, for instance, the idea that government ought to provide generous social services for the poor because all Americans ostensibly have an equal chance at success.

Even more galling? Pope's network -- and GOP legislators backed by Pope -- have pushed hard in 2011 to eliminate North Carolina's "clean elections" program that makes it less costly for everyday people to run for elections. Currently, for certain judicial and council of state elections, candidates who raise enough small donations can qualify for public grants to make campaigns more affordable.

Despite the popularity of the program -- more than 75% of eligible judges have used it, and both the Democratic and GOP candidates for insurance commissioner in 2008 benefited -- the Republican-led legislature de-funded the Council of State program in 2011 and fought to abolish the judicial program as well.

Americans for Prosperity, the Civitas Institute and the John Locke Foundation -- leading N.C. think tanks and activist groups that receive a large amount of their money from Art Pope and his foundation -- all vigorously pushed to eliminate the program.

Self-reliance? That's for the other 99 percent.

Quote from John William Pope, Sr. is from the website of the John William Pope Foundation.

For more on North Carolina powerbroker Art Pope, visit the Institute's special investigative project ArtPopeExposed.com. You can also follow on Twitter at @ArtPopeExposed.