Who the hell asked Art Pope, anyway? (part I)

OH SHIT, TOTO! Fetch me the ruby slippers. I'm gettin' my ass back to Kansas!

“OH SHIT, TOTO! Fetch me the ruby slippers. I’m gettin’ my ass back to Kansas!”

Well…quoting directly from his own website, it seems he would very much like us to bend at our knees and lay wreaths at his feet in praise of the magnificence of his altruistic sensibilities:

If character is defined by what we do when no one is looking, then Art Pope’s character is defined by his philanthropic work over the past 25 years. With little fanfare, both personally and through the John William Pope Foundation, Art has given away tens of millions of dollars to organizations that seek to empower individuals, expand opportunity, and protect human dignity.

This single quote is indicative of the hyperbole so fundamental to the public persona Art Pope and his acolytes vigorously propagate. Obfuscated by their steady stream of rhetoric, though, is to what and where his generosity is actually directed. They would prefer we didn’t know, but, thankfully, one needs to look no further than the numbers Pope offers on his very own website.

Of nearly $5.8 million in fiscal year 2011 grants by the John William Pope Foundation – a nonprofit 501(c)(3) given the rare designation by the IRS as a private foundation due to it’s disproportionate dependence on the Pope family as it’s single benefactor – nearly 90 percent (over $5 million) went toward the operating budgets of some of North Carolina’s most influential conservative research, advocacy and legal groups.

Categorized as Public Policy on his website, the top four grants went to organizations Pope either created or helped to create, and, according to the Institute of Southern Studies, structured in such ways “…that ensures Pope holds a high level of organizational and financial control – far beyond that seen in most other nonprofits in the state”:

When you consider that these institutions are all in lockstep with Pope’s ultra-conservative, free-market ideology:

Our family has worked hard and benefited from America’s free-enterprise system, and we want to make sure that the benefits of a democracy with a free-market economy are there for everyone’s benefit and for future generations.

you might get the sense that the other 10 percent of the 2011 grants – education, humanitarian and the arts – we typically associate with the Merriam-Webster definition of philanthropy, is somehow lost in the tired rebukes Pope trots out each and every time his ego is bruised by those of us who aren’t so enamored by his privileged station in life.

None of the cited enterprises man any neighborhood soup kitchens. Nor do they donate bowls or ladles. Along with his support of the likes of Americans for Prosperity and Real Jobs NC, Pope’s associations with these organizations unequivocally serve as dark-money weigh-stations for furthering his ideological pursuits. Their individual mission statements speak for themselves.

For Art Pope to promote his extreme right-wing agenda for North Carolina in the name of philanthropy is disingenuous at best. Fueling his so-called philanthropy off the backs of the poor and middle-class so unabashedly targeted by his Variety Wholesalers business model – those most impacted by the oppressive legislation advanced by his array of think-tanks – is nothing short of despicable.

Contrary to the often stereotypical connotation typically taken by our friends on the political right, the poor and middle-class demographic would most likely include you as well. If you live in an area within North Carolina where the median household income is $40,000 or less, and, with a minimum 25 percent African-American population living within five miles, you’ll likely find a Roses or Maxway store within relatively short distance of your home. (Since the last time I visited their website, they upped the median income by 5k and dropped the bullet item addressing the African-American population).

You’d have to admit that that covers quite a bit of territory here in the Old North State. There aren’t as many gold-gated communities as you might think, and there’s a very good chance you don’t live in one anyway. And for those of you from other southeastern or mid-Atlantic states who happen upon this post, other of Pope’s brands might be located up the street from you too.

With each ring of the cash register, Pope’s underpaid employees unwittingly grease the wheels of his political machine. Those of his hapless customers who can barely even afford the low cost, low quality, foreign made merchandise he peddles are doomed to a perverted loyalty perpetuated by Pope’s legislative meddling.

Those of us having the economic means to shop for higher quality elsewhere aren’t immune to the collateral damage from his overreach. The more the tax burden shifts from Pope and his wealthy peers to the working poor and middle-class, the more risk we tax payers are forced to take on as more and more of our government services morph into public/private ventures, and, the wider the income gap between the rich and poor grows, the closer to Rose’s front entrance we all get.

To be clear, it would be preposterous of me to posit that Pope spends millions of dollars influencing state politics just to attract more customers to his stores. Of course I wouldn’t. I couldn’t imagine even him stooping so low. I’m no retail magnate, but it seems to me it would be much more cost effective to spend his money on advertising. Putting a circular in the Sunday papers more than once a year would be a good start I suppose. Or could he? As the saying goes, “the only certainty in life is death and taxes”. Nevertheless, this is a glimpse of what Art Pope’s vision for North Carolina look likes.

So, what could Pope really be up to?

Does he truly believe in his heart of hearts that he knows whats best for the citizens of North Carolina? If so, what makes him think so? And, more importantly, who the fuck asked him in the first place?

Does greed actually transcend his politics? Is he doubling down on the proven failures of Reaganomics as cover for an even more nefarious delusion? If so, would we all be better off migrating to Texas?

These are questions I plan to address in upcoming installments. Please submit your comments.

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