The same week that a campaign launched to defeat an anti-gay marriage amendment in North Carolina, conservative benefactor Art Pope is slinking away from evidence that his family foundation has been a key funder of the groups pushing the constitutional change -- including a North Carolina religious right group criticized last December for using violent imagery to promote the amendment.
In a radio debate on Sunday, January 15 on 106.1 FM Raleigh, Pope claimed that I had "lied" in a piece showing the John W. Pope Foundation funded three groups that strongly oppose gay marriage, most notably the N.C. Family Policy Council, which has spearheaded efforts to pass an anti-gay marriage amendment in North Carolina since 2004.
Indeed, the N.C. Family Policy Council was in the media just last month when it was criticized for publishing a "sniper" picture (see above) in its newsletter for a pro-amendment story titled "Marriage in Society's Moral Crosshairs." As Alvin McEwen of LGBTQ Nation said, "Maybe it's just me, but civil debates on marriage equality don't necessarily encompass images of an assassin targeting newlyweds."
The latest tax records show Pope's foundation has given $965,000 to the N.C. Family Policy Council (an earlier figure of $860,000 didn't include newly-available foundation tax records).
What's more, 78 percent of that money came after Art Pope took over the family foundation in 2006 -- at the very time the N.C. Family Policy Council was stepping up its advocacy on N.C.'s anti-gay marriage amendment.
On the radio show, Pope belligerently denied any connection to the anti-gay marriage amendment cause:
Mr. Kromm, you have lied about how I supposedly spent $1 million to fund the anti-gay marriage amendment ... Mr. Kromm again said that we give $860,000 over 14 years, 15 years, comes out to about $30,000 a year -- yes, we did, to North Carolina Family Policy Council general operations, including for efforts to educate the public on the lottery. He wants to say that that money given to a nonprofit public-policy group's going to be used in 2012 to support the anti-gay referendum, even though the money was given years ago and the Family Policy Council cannot get involved in referendums.
But Pope's response neglects two realities about his charitable support of anti-gay marriage groups:
N.C. FAMILY POLICY COUNCIL'S LEADERSHIP IN THE AMENDMENT CRUSADE
First, passing an anti-gay marriage amendment has been a top priority of the N.C. Family Policy Council since 2004, and the group is a key leader of the cause.
As Bill Brooks, president of the Council, said in August 2011:
We [the N.C. Family Policy Council] were involved back in 1996 in the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, which is now currently the North Carolina law and since 2004 have been working with legislators to try to get a constitutional amendment passed in the General Assembly. [emphasis added]
In a May 2004 paper advocating the amendment [pdf], the Council said, "There is no more important issue facing our state and nation than preserving marriage" -- a theme frequently repeated by Council staff. Since 2004, the Council has called the amendment one of their "primary" issues and put at the top of their yearly legislative wrap-ups.
The group's website lists 14 policy papers dating back to 2003 specifically focused on the need for a North Carolina anti-gay marriage amendment, more than any other single policy proposal. In 2011 alone, Brooks has made the amendment the focus of six of his weekly radio addresses and mentioned it many times more.
THE POPE FOUNDATION'S GROWING SUPPORT OF THE COUNCIL'S ACTIVITIES
Second, the Pope Foundation's support of the N.C. Family Policy Council has increased as the group's leadership on the anti-gay marriage amendment has grown.
As Brooks of the Council states above, the N.C. Family Policy Council kicked off its push for the anti-gay marriage amendment in earnest in 2004, the first year they attempted to bring a vote to the floor of the N.C. legislature. Since then, they've steadily increased their advocacy, holding rallies in Raleigh, increasing their policy papers on the issue and seeking to gain more bill sponsors in the legislature. They finally achieved a breakthrough in 2011, thanks largely to Republican gains in the state legislature (aided by Pope's family contributions and support of outside political groups).
The Pope Foundation's support of the Council has dramatically risen in roughly the same time-frame. This also happens to coincide with when Art Pope took over as chairman of John William Pope Foundation in 2006, a position he still holds.
According to the latest tax records, the Pope Foundation has given $750,000 to the N.C. Policy Council since 2006. That's 78 percent of the entire amount the foundation gave the group since 1997. Here's a chart showing how the Pope foundation's funding of the Council has increased as the anti-gay marriage amendment has gained steam:
What's more, as the chart shows, the average grant from Pope's foundation to the Council has skyrocketed from under $24,000 a year before Art Pope's tenure -- and before North Carolina's anti-marriage amendment really started gearing up -- to over $135,000 annually over the last five years, an increase of 470 percent. If Pope didn't support what the Council was doing, he has an odd way of showing it.
HAVING IT BOTH WAYS?
Art Pope has two choices: Either he is unaware of what groups like the N.C. Family Policy Council are doing with his foundation's money, which might point to management problems at the Pope Foundation.
Or -- more likely, given his self-image as a passionately engaged philanthropist -- Pope knows the N.C. Family Policy Council has been leading the push for North Carolina's anti-gay marriage amendment, and has been rewarding them accordingly.
And what about the Council's "efforts to educate the public on the lottery," which Pope alluded to as a reason for his funding support? The Council has only published on the subect three times since Art Pope took over the foundation in 2006 -- and hasn't written anything about it since 2007.
On the radio show, Mr. Pope wouldn't admit to a position on the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment itself. But his money has already done the talking.