The Corner

Another Failed Political Assassination

Last November, as part of the Republican wave sweeping the nation, North Carolina voters elected Republican majorities to both chambers of our state legislature for the first time since 1870.

The day after the election, a self-proclaimed “progressive” blogger in Chapel Hill — angry about the Republican victories — fantasized about assassinating me. “I’m a trained killer you know, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayers, and it would be easy as pie to take [Art Pope] out.”

After cooling off a bit, he then backed off: “Don’t worry Mr. Pope,” he wrote. “You’re not worth dying for, not to me anyway.” But he vowed to do “whatever was necessary to stop Art Pope from buying our democracy.”

That “whatever” turned up recently in the pages of The New Yorker: a classic journalism hatchet job intended to illustrate that I use my money to “buy” elections.

What makes me different from George Soros, George Clooney, or George Sheridan — a National Education Association (NEA) board member — all of whom, personally or institutionally, support liberal-left Democratic candidates?

The answer is: I’m a conservative Republican and I exercise my First Amendment rights by supporting conservative public-policy and issue-advocacy organizations, grassroots activism, voter education, and Republican candidates. With the obvious importance of North Carolina in next year’s national elections, the Left now wants to silence me.

The New Yorker bilge notwithstanding, the truth is that the Left routinely outspends the Right on issue advocacy and elections — and this doesn’t even count the in-kind contributions Democrats receive from organized labor and the support they get from the media.

Consider the ill-tempered blogger who went after me last year. His blog had a link to an organization known as the Institute for Southern Studies (ISS).

ISS is funded in part by George Soros’s Open Society and the North Carolina–based Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. The Reynolds Foundation is run by a former Democratic state senator and its board includes a current Democratic state senator, a former Democratic member of Congress, and other prominent donors to the Democratic party. Which is all well and good; that’s their right.

In October 2010, in time for the November elections, ISS did a series of online hit pieces on me and on the conservative organizations I support. The North Carolina Democratic party joined in with a call for a boycott of my stores, Variety Wholesalers, because I (gasp) donate to Republicans candidates.

The North Carolina Association of Educators, the teachers’ union affiliate, also announced a boycott of our stores, threatening to put us out of business (and my employees out of work).

The threats failed. But some people never give up. And in The New Yorker, which has a history of “exposing” conservatives who exercise their First Amendment rights, they found a willing listener, happy to accuse me of “buying elections.”

What writer Jane Mayer left out of her story — a tale about how my personal donations, corporate independent expenditures, and foundation grants had allegedly overwhelmed democracy in North Carolina — was the inconvenient fact that Republicans in 2010 were outspent by Democrats by a large margin (as they were in 2008), and that every dollar I and other conservatives spent was more than matched by “progressive” individuals and organizations.

In 2008, for example, the state Democratic party and its candidates spent $14.7 million on legislative races; Republicans spent just $7.7 million. In 2010, Republicans narrowed the gap and spent $11.6 million; the Democrats spent about a third more: $15.3 million.

In 2010, the Pope Foundation, which supports animal welfare, public health, the arts, and education as well as organizations concerned with issues and ideas, donated some $5.7 million to North Carolina public-policy organizations.

The New Yorker finds that deplorable. But it’s apparently okay that the Reynolds Foundation provided some $6.7 million in grants to North Carolina progressive policy organizations.

I was happy to contribute to the 2010 victory, within the limits set by law. And Jane Mayer’s attempted character assassination in The New Yorker will do little to discourage me from continuing my involvement.

As a conservative journalist commented to a friend, what’s most tragic about this is that “the Left’s whole way of fighting has pretty much degenerated into name-calling these days.” That’s unfortunate.

James Arthur (“Art”) Pope is president of Variety Wholesalers, Henderson, N.C., and chairman of the John William Pope Foundation, Raleigh, N.C. He served in the North Carolina House of Representatives from 1989–1992 and from 1999–2002.