Art Pope accused of buying legislature for Republicans.
A recent article by Jane Mayer of The New Yorker entitled “State for Sale” issued a sharp critique of Raleigh’s Art Pope, chairman and CEO of Variety Wholesalers, for literally trying to buy the state’s legislature for the Republican Party.
Indirectly, Mayer took aim at North Carolina Senator Jim Davis and the state’s Republican Party as well, for utilizing “outside” cash to take control of the state’s General Assembly for the first time in over a century.
“The New Yorker is a liberal magazine and I think that is fairly obvious to anyone who reads it,” stated Sen. Jim Davis. “The author knew what she wanted to write before she started researching, and I think the article reflects that. She molded the facts together to fit her own agenda.”
“Her research assistant called me and asked me a few questions about my career and if I was allied with the Tea Party. They didn’t want to know much about me at all, which didn’t surprise me. She wrote that I had minimal political experience, but I think serving 10 years as a county commissioner gave me more experience in comparison to John Snow’s background. The author is just a liberal and it was written from that perspective,” argued Davis.
Mayer’s piece was well-researched, documenting Art Pope’s initial meeting with Republican strategist Ed Gillespie in the spring of 2010, where the two developed a framework to win back the state legislature from the Democratic Party. Such a victory would ensure Republican control of the redistricting process, which is mandated every ten years by the United States Constitution.
The politicization of redistricting is not a novelty. North Carolina Democrats have gerrymandered the state for decades, but what is new in American politics is the legality of unlimited money in campaigns.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission enables corporations and unions to spend an unlimited amount of money on political elections. The decision is a definitive game-changer, as Mayer noted, and so far Republicans in North Carolina have used the law to their advantage.
The decision overturned the teeth of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, which regulated how corporations and unions could spend money on campaigns, specifically their liberty to fund candidate specific advertisements. The Roberts Court decided that corporations have a right to free speech as individuals, but critics argue the decision opens the floodgates for corporations and unions to buy elections.
The premise of Mayer’s piece focused on the implications of the court’s decision and its impact on campaigns, post-Citizens United, and she argued that a conservative multimillionaire from Raleigh single- handedly tilted 18 North Carolina state legislative races for the GOP.
“Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” said Sen. Jim Davis. “There is nothing new about that. I just think it’s curious that Democrats are concerned about campaign money all of a sudden when they are on the losing end for once.”
Former Senator John Snow views the issue differently.
“Money has always been a big factor in politics, but this is different. Questions about where the money is coming from and who is really in control worries me. Before, individuals dominated the campaign financing process, and now, corporations do. I think that court decision put us down a dangerous path, to where it’s about the best office holder money can buy,” said former State Senator John Snow, who lost his reelection bid to Sen. Jim Davis in 2010 by 161 votes.
“What they did to me in some of those flyers was pretty cheap and down-right dirty in my opinion,” stated Snow. “I haven’t had the chance to read the entire article, but from what I’ve read so far, she got it right.”
To begin her piece, Mayer charged that two independent groups, funded largely by Art Pope, spent nearly a million dollars to unseat Senator John Snow in his 2010 race against then challenger Jim Davis. Not surprisingly, the two independent groups, Real Jobs NC and Civitas Action, were not independent at all, but were actually a partisan creation, courtesy of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
The article chronicled Art Pope’s funding of two notable flyers, which accused John Snow of spending $218,000 on a “Shakespeare Festival and wasting more money on a luxury pier in coastal Carolina. Mayer wrote how Pope’s organization failed to mention that every other member of the North Carolina legislature voted to fund the pier, and that the $218,000 worth of money spent on the festival was actually a budget reduction.
Mayer wrote about another mass mailed flyer from 2010 that attacked Sen. John Snow’s support of the Racial Justice Act, a law that allows judges to overturn death sentences if the convict could prove that racism was a factor in the jury’s verdict. The flyer had a photograph of William Lee McCollum, a convicted murderer, and stated “thanks to arrogant State Senator John Snow, McCollum could soon be left off of death row.”
“I did not approve of any of the flyers that were sent out. I didn’t even know about them, and I thought the one flyer that depicted McCollum was in poor taste. It was way beyond my comfort zone and I certainly did not approve of it,” continued Davis.
“But it just strikes me as curious that Democrats are crying about outside cash. Art Pope and some of his family members sent me three $4,000 checks to support my campaign, and I picked up the phone and called him to say thank you. I haven’t spoken to him since,” he said.
Republican efforts to recapture the state legislature were successful, and the new redistricting lines could pose a tremendous threat to state and Congressional Democrats, including Heath Shuler. Nevertheless, Mayer’s objectivity is questionable, but she did not get her facts wrong. However, Mayer’s reference to Western North Carolina as a “poor, backwoods district” conveys a disappointing message, one that fully displays her ignorance of Appalachian culture and history.
To Mayer’s credit, she did raise some pertinent questions in her analysis of Pope’s impact on the 2010 state legislative races. How will the Citizens United case impact future elections? Do we need a major campaign finance reform to eliminate money from campaigns and ensure the election process is fair? Only time will tell.