Art Pope, CEO of Variety Wholesalers Inc. and former state budget director for Gov. Pat McCrory, has long wielded far too much power in North Carolina. He has manipulated a considerable personal fortune to create a political empire of immense and unchecked influence.
After resigning as budget director in August, rumors are circulating that his next sphere of control will be higher education. The (Raleigh) News & Observer recently printed two editorials linking his name to the UNC system’s presidency, a position currently held by Thomas Ross.
As the state’s biggest political donor, Pope’s network of organizations funded the state’s sharp conservative turn. According to an extensive profile by The New Yorker, his network has given $35 million in the last decade to supposedly non-partisan policy groups of his own creation, which are uniformly dedicated to conservative causes. In the 2010 state legislative elections, he pumped millions of dollars into 22 races, 18 of which were won by candidates with his backing.
His empire holds considerable power in the N.C. General Assembly. The Locke Foundation, one of the many conservative think-tanks Pope bankrolls, took credit for the legislature’s tax policy and its decision to lift the cap on charter schools, as well as other small-ticket items.