Top 5 of 2011 - #1: How to Expose a Big Money Power Broker

NOTE: Posting will continue to be light at Facing South as we wrap up the winter holidays. This is the final installment in our list of Facing South's top five stories of 2011.

A year ago, few people knew about Art Pope. The Koch brothers, Karl Rove, even Grover Norquist -- many of the big money-men and operatives behind the conservative resurgence have become nearly household names. But not Pope, even though he is a close junior lieutenant of the Kochs and is the single biggest powerbroker in the key battleground state of North Carolina.

Over the last year, Facing South and the Institute changed that. Art Pope went from behind-the-scenes operative to national headline, in large part due to our 18-month investigation into the money, people and agenda driving Pope's empire.

Here's how we turned a secretive Raleigh multimillionaire into a national news story:

1) IN-DEPTH INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING: Beginning in 2010, the Institute launched an 18-month investigation into Art Pope's network. We revealed that Pope supplies more than 85% of the money for North Carolina's right-wing groups, how Pope fueled the GOP's capture of the N.C. state legislature in 2010, and Pope's close relationship with the Tea Party and billionaire Koch brothers.

2) CHANGE THE MEDIA DEBATE: The Institute's investigations heightened media scrutiny of Pope, garnering TV, radio and newspaper coverage state-wide. In March 2011, the Institute partnered with North Carolina's Independent Weekly to produce a special issue exposing Pope's empire. We later collaborated with Brave New Foundation to produce a nationally-distributed video on the influence of Pope's Americans for Prosperity in N.C. schools.

3) PUSH HIM INTO THE NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT: Drawing heavily on Facing South's and the Institute's coverage, in October 2011 Jane Mayer of The New Yorker produced a 9,500-word profile of Pope and his network in North Carolina. The piece led to national coverage of Pope on MSNBC, NPR and other major media outlets, as well as more coverage of Pope in local and state media.

4) KEEP THE PRESSURE ON: The same day The New Yorker story appeared, the Institute launched, a special investigative project that along with Facing South has broken stories on Pope's backing of attacks on climate scientists and funding North Carolina's anti-gay marriage initiative. A "teach-in" about Pope co-hosted by Facing South and the Institute in December 2011 drew 300 people in-person and via online video stream.

Why is this story so important? Because for years, Pope was allowed to orchestrate his political empire yet escape tough media scrutiny. This is not only important in North Carolina, where Pope has emerged as the single largest Big Money powerbroker.

Pope's influence in North Carolina is also a national story, given the state's critical role in national politics, and that Pope is viewed as a national model for how outside millionaires can buy influence in state politics in the post-Citizens United landscape using an interlocking network of nonprofit and electoral operations.

And at Facing South, we'll take some of the credit for making that story known.