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Featured News Voter Access SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: How Art Pope helped turn back the clock on voting rights in North Carolina
Saturday, 07 June 2014 18:51

SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: How Art Pope helped turn back the clock on voting rights in North Carolina

Written by  Sue Sturgis, with research by Marion T. Johnson | Facing South

When Montravias King, a senior at North Carolina's historically black Elizabeth City State University, showed up at a hearing before the Pasquotank County Board of Elections earlier this month to defend his bid for a city council seat, he faced off against Richard "Pete" Gilbert, the local Republican Party chair.

Gilbert was there to challenge King's residency qualifications, arguing that because the student lives in a campus dormitory he's not a permanent resident of Elizabeth City and therefore does not have the right to hold local office -- even though he's lived in, volunteered in, and voted in Pasquotank County since 2009. Earlier this year, Gilbert also got 56 ECSU students dropped from the voter rolls for registering at their campus address, but he has not mounted similar challenges to student voters at Mid-Atlantic Christian University, a largely white private school also in Elizabeth City.

The local elections board, which is controlled by a Republican majority, sided with Gilbert, and last week issued an order barring King from the ballot. The Durham, N.C.-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice has filed an appeal with the state elections board, saying the ruling violates equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution. The hearing is set for Tuesday, Sept. 3. The decision will have important implications for the voting rights of students across North Carolina, since residency requirements for running for office and casting a ballot are the same.

Gilbert, who told the Associated Press that he plans to "take this show on the road," did not come to the Pasquotank elections board hearing alone: Sitting next to him was Susan Myrick, an elections analyst with the John W. Pope Civitas Institute. (This is not the same Sue Myrick who formerly served as the U.S. Representative for North Carolina's 9th District.) Civitas is a conservative think tank founded and largely funded by GOP mega-donor and North Carolina budget director Art Pope and named for Pope's father, the founder of the Variety Wholesalers discount retail chain through which the family amassed its multimillion-dollar fortune.

Myrick's presence at King's hearing has raised questions about Pope's involvement in efforts to roll back voting rights in North Carolina, which had made great strides in boosting turnout in recent years. But that progress in expanding access to the franchise is now jeopardized by a controversial new state elections law, the Voter Identification and Verification Act, which requires voters to show a state-issued photo ID but does not allow students to use school IDs. VIVA also shortens the early voting period and ends same-day registration.

A Facing South investigation finds that Pope played several critical but largely behind-the-scenes roles in advancing the state's new voting restrictions:

1. Pope's ideological network ginned up fear of voter fraud.

Voters cast 3.79 million ballots in North Carolina's 2010 election cycle, and only 28 cases of voter fraud were referred to district attorneys. In 2012, North Carolina voters cast nearly 7 million ballots, and only 121 alleged cases of voter fraud were found. Going back to 2007, the N.C. State Board of Elections has reported a grand total of 80 cases of double voting, three cases involving voter residency issues, and two cases of voter impersonation, which is what the state's new photo ID law aims to prevent.

There simply is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in North Carolina -- a point made by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican who served under President George W. Bush, when he recently visited the state and slammed its new voting law.

"You can say what you like, but there is no voter fraud," Powell told an executive forum in Raleigh. "How can it be widespread and undetected?"

But you get a very different impression about voter fraud reading the publications produced by conservative think tanks founded and largely funded by Pope.

Civitas, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that bills itself as "North Carolina's Conservative Voice," gets over 99 percent of its funding from Pope -- so much that the IRS classifies it as a private foundation. Pope also founded the John Locke Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that promotes limited government, and he provides around 80 percent of its operating budget. Pope sat on the two groups' boards of directors until becoming the state budget director earlier this year, giving him a considerable level of both financial and organizational control.

Over the past five years, with Pope and his money at the helm, Civitas and the John Locke Foundation published more than 50 articles, op-eds and blog posts warning of voter fraud and using the alleged threat to call for a strict photo ID law, an end to same-day registration, and a shorter early voting period.

Some stories in Pope-connected publications took a more measured approach to promoting fear of fraud. "Realistically, voter ID requirements are an insurance policy against the possibility that an extremely close election might be stolen by voter fraud," John Locke Foundation President John Hood wrote in a December 2012 article in Carolina Journal, the organization's flagship publication.

Others suggested that voter fraud is a tool commonly used on the political left. "We know that the SEIU, Democratic Party, lefties of all stripes, and every identity group out there understands that a voter ID law would make it difficult to commit vote fraud," Jon Ham wrote for the John Locke Foundation's Right Angles blog in 2011. "THAT's why many of them oppose it."

Meanwhile, Civitas relentlessly criticized an earlier version of voter ID legislation, saying it allowed too many ID options, including utility bills and bank statements. The bill also allowed voters without ID to simply show their signature matched the one on their voter registration -- an approach Civitas rejected in its effort to get the kind of bill that ultimately passed.

"It is safe to say that anyone who votes for a voter ID bill that includes any of these elements is not a supporter of true voter photo ID," Myrick wrote at the time.

2. Pope's ideological network gave a platform to voting restriction extremism.

Both the John Locke Foundation and Civitas Institute have prominently featured the work of Jay DeLancy and his group the Voter Integrity Project of NC (VIP-NC), which has been involved in controversial efforts to kick people off the voting rolls.

A retired Air Force officer, DeLancy attended a 2011 summit held in Houston by True the Vote, a group with close ties to the Tea Party movement that promotes poll watching efforts to root out what it alleges is widespread fraud. True the Vote has been criticized by voting rights advocates for intimidating voters. It has also come under criticism for describing itself as nonpartisan while making in-kind contributions to Republicans and contributing thousands of dollars to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which works to get party members elected to state office. (Pope's business also funds the RSLC.)

DeLancy launched a North Carolina chapter of True the Vote, but he broke from the national group after it raised concerns about his anti-immigrant leanings. He then founded VIP-NC, which DeLancy says "springs from [his] outrage at the news of how election after election is stolen in some amazingly brazen way."

Last year, DeLancy challenged the registrations of more than 500 voters in Wake County, N.C. -- mostly people of color -- who he said were not U.S. citizens. One voter was found to have improperly registered and was stricken from the rolls, while several others requested their own removal. Of the 18 challenges that the local election board found required further investigation, all were dismissed after hundreds of hours of work by the board. A furious DeLancy stormed out of the hearing, kicking open the building's glass doors and denouncing the board as looking "stupid."

Also during last year's busy election season, DeLancy's group submitted nearly 30,000 names of registered voters it claimed were dead to the state elections board. But after a lengthy investigation, the board found that many of the people on DeLancy's outdated list had already been removed from the rolls -- and others were still alive. No evidence emerged of any kind of fraudulent scheme to steal an election.

DeLancy's less-than-careful work and nativist leanings did not deter Pope's ideological network from giving him a platform, however. In the past year, they have cited him and VIP-NC at least 10 times. In one blog post, the John Locke Foundation published DeLancy's claim that VIVA was too permissive. In another, Civitas applauded VIP-NC's work.

"VIP is doing their best to identify names that should not be on the rolls, both dead and non-citizens," Myrick wrote. "You see, they must do this work, because the State Board of Elections will not … ."

3. Pope supported key GOP lawmakers involved in advancing voting restrictions.

House Bill 589, the elections bill that the North Carolina legislature passed this year, was originally introduced in April by four primary sponsors, all Republicans. Two of them -- Reps. Harry Warren of Rowan County and Tom Murry of Wake County -- got generous support in launching their political careers from Pope, his family, and his network of political spending groups.

Running for the legislature for the first time in 2010, Warren narrowly defeated his Democratic opponent, a five-term incumbent, by fewer than 200 votes. Warren's campaign benefited from over $109,000 in spending from Real Jobs NC, a 527 political group co-founded by Pope and whose major funders include Variety Wholesalers. Also in 2010, Murry's campaign to unseat a Democratic incumbent benefited from $12,000 in campaign contributions from Pope and his family, and over $92,000 in independent spending from outside groups affiliated with Pope. That total included more than $45,000 from Real Jobs NC; $25,000 from Civitas Action, the Pope-founded 501(c)(4) sister group of the Civitas Institute; and $21,000 from Americans for Prosperity, on whose national board Pope sat until becoming state budget director.

The revised version of the House elections bill that was unveiled in the state Senate and passed in the closing days of this year's session was even harsher than the original House proposal. Pope's network also supported the lawmakers behind voting restrictions that were added to the final version of the bill.

State Sen. E.S. "Buck" Newton III is a Wilson County Republican who formerly served as an aide to deceased U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, an outspoken foe of the Voting Rights Act whose 1990 campaign against Harvey Gantt, the African-American former mayor of Charlotte, got in trouble for illegally trying to suppress the black vote. Newton was the primary sponsor of an omnibus elections bill introduced in April that had a strict voter ID provision and disallowed the use of student IDs for voting. It also dramatically shortened early voting and eliminated same-day registration -- all provisions that were added to the House bill and became law. Newton was first elected to the state Senate in 2010, defeating the Democratic incumbent with the help of $4,000 in contributions from Pope and his family and more than $17,000 in independent expenditures from Americans for Prosperity.

Pope and his network also generously supported the 2010 election to the state House of Bill Cook, a Republican who is now a state senator representing the northeastern North Carolina coastal district that's home to Elizabeth City State University. In the 2010 cycle, Cook benefited from over $79,000 in outside support from Pope-backed groups, as well as $16,000 in direct campaign contributions from Pope and his family. Running for state Senate two years later, Cook was helped by over $9,700 in expenditures by Americans for Prosperity, winning by just 21 votes.

Cook went on to become one of the primary sponsors of Senate Bill 666 -- dubbed the "Bill of the Beast" by voting rights advocates -- that cut early voting, eliminated same-day registration, and expanded the rights of party-appointed poll observers. All of those provisions made it into the law signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, whose 2012 campaign received $20,000 in contributions from Pope and his family, and benefited from independent expenditures of $380,000 by Real Jobs NC and $130,000 from Americans for Prosperity.

This year Cook was also a primary sponsor of another bill that would have imposed a tax penalty on the parents of students who register to vote at school. That proposal was tabled after public outcry.

4. Pope helped Republicans win control of state government.

As Facing South has documented, Pope, his family, his company, and the network of outside political groups he's affiliated with -- Americans for Prosperity, Civitas Action, and Real Jobs NC -- spent a total of over $2.2 million in the 2010 election cycle to elect Republican state lawmakers, helping give the party control of both the state House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction. Those wins also put Republicans in control of drawing new political lines, with Pope serving as an adviser to the redistricting process and further consolidating GOP control of state government.

Pope was an important force again in the 2012 election cycle, as he, his family, and his affiliated groups spent over $2 million on state-level races, helping Republicans win supermajorities in both chambers and putting a Republican in the executive mansion. Without the GOP in power in Raleigh, legislative proposals to limit access to the ballot box -- which disproportionately affect minorities, young people, and other Democratic-leaning constituencies -- would have gone nowhere.

That those proposals are now the law in North Carolina is due in no small part to the efforts of Pope.

Link to original article from Facing South

Read 2139 times Last modified on Saturday, 07 June 2014 19:09

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  • Socialist Wins in France: Two Articles Explain the Historical and Current Context
    Socialist Wins in France: Two Articles Explain the Historical and Current Context

    "France, Okay, But Could a Socialist Gain Power in the US? Here's How It Almost Happened" by Greg Mitchell of the Nation, and "François Hollande wins French presidential election" by Angelique Chrisafis of the Guardian.

    Written on Monday, 07 May 2012 17:44 Read more...
  • NNU Rally to Tax Wall Street and Heal America
    NNU Rally to Tax Wall Street and Heal America

    Nurses, Robin Hood and the band of merry women and men, and scores of friends
are strapping on their boots and preparing to head to Chicago Friday, May 18.

    Written on Monday, 07 May 2012 16:29 Read more...
  • 9 Swing States, Critical to Presidential Race, Are Mixed Lot
    9 Swing States, Critical to Presidential Race, Are Mixed Lot

    Since the housing bubble burst, Nevada has been plagued with record foreclosures, the nation’s steepest drop in home values and its highest unemployment rate.

    Iowa, on the other hand, may have missed out on some of the boom but was spared the worst of the bust: its housing prices have stayed relatively stable, and it now has the fifth-lowest unemployment rate in the country.

    Written on Sunday, 06 May 2012 22:46 Read more...
  • Defense trumps poverty in Republican House
    Defense trumps poverty in Republican House

    American soldiers learned the hard way not to walk down enemy trails in Vietnam — and certainly not twice. But here come the House Republicans, marching into the sunlight by shifting billions from poverty programs to the Pentagon, all within hours of adopting an entirely new round of tax cuts for those earning more than $1 million a year.

    Written on Friday, 04 May 2012 16:50 Read more...
  • McDermott Will & Emery's Pardo discusses impacts of EPA's fracking rule (video and transcript)
    McDermott Will & Emery's Pardo discusses impacts of EPA's fracking rule (video and transcript)

    How will U.S. EPA's oil and gas air rule affect the fracking industry? During today's OnPoint, Jim Pardo, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery, discusses the broader impacts of the rule ....

    Written on Thursday, 03 May 2012 23:19 Read more...
  • One Year After Bin Laden’s Death, Bring the Troops Home Now
    One Year After Bin Laden’s Death, Bring the Troops Home Now

    Today marks one year since the death of Osama bin Laden. The CIA estimates there are fewer than 100 al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Since ‘getting Bin Laden’ and defeating al Qaeda were the stated reasons the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, President Barack Obama should use the anniversary to announce the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

    Written on Thursday, 03 May 2012 23:12 Read more...
  • Obama's Afghanistan Speech: A Guide for the Perplexed
    Obama's Afghanistan Speech: A Guide for the Perplexed

    President Obama’s dramatic speech from Afghanistan should be parsed as a careful election-year orchestration of his plan to “wind down” the war. It is no accident that the speech came during the first-year commemoration of the killing of Osama bin Laden, the event providing Obama the rationale for ending American combat while placing hawks and political rivals on the defensive.

    Written on Thursday, 03 May 2012 23:05 Read more...
  • End Student Debt!
    End Student Debt!

    The student loan crisis finally reached center stage in Washington after the House GOP budget called for letting interest rates double on government-subsidized loans (and for deep cuts in Pell grants and other student support). If it passes, students who borrow the maximum will end up paying as much as $1,000 a year in added interest.

    Written on Thursday, 03 May 2012 20:13 Read more...
  • Women: Occupy the Left
    Women: Occupy the Left

    Women’s rights have always been a bit of an add-on for the left. At this spring’s Left Forum, only fifteen of 440 panels touched on any feminist issue, broadly understood. New Left Review is famous, at least in my apartment, for its high testosterone content (despite being edited by a woman); ditto Verso, the left’s flagship publishing house, where women authors are as rare as Siberian tigers.

    Written on Thursday, 03 May 2012 20:06 Read more...
  • Conservative Nonprofit Acts as a Stealth Business Lobbyist
    Conservative Nonprofit Acts as a Stealth Business Lobbyist

    Desperate for new revenue, Ohio lawmakers introduced legislation last year that would make it easier to recover money from businesses that defraud the state. It was quickly flagged at the Washington headquarters of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a business-backed group that views such “false claims” laws as encouraging frivolous lawsuits. ALEC’s membership includes not only corporations, but nearly 2,000 state legislators across the country — including dozens who would vote on the Ohio bill.

    Written on Monday, 23 April 2012 19:50 Read more...
  • Meet the US media companies lobbying against transparency
    Meet the US media companies lobbying against transparency

    Corporate owners or sister companies of some of the biggest names in journalism against FCC order to post political ad data. News organizations cultivate a reputation for demanding transparency, whether by suing for access to government documents, dispatching camera crews to the doorsteps of recalcitrant politicians, or editorializing in favor of open government.

    Written on Sunday, 22 April 2012 15:31 Read more...
  • Former ALEC Supporters Now Find Connection Toxic
    Former ALEC Supporters Now Find Connection Toxic

    With thousands of consumers expressing their concerns about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to corporations across America, even former supporters of ALEC are feeling the heat, and some are rushing to distance themselves from the organization. YUM! Brands (owners of KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut) became the 12th corporate member of ALEC to announce it is leaving the organization yesterday.

    Written on Friday, 20 April 2012 15:24 Read more...
  • A Cruel Ethos - Pay Upfront or Die
    A Cruel Ethos - Pay Upfront or Die

    Our acceptance of death for those who can’t afford medical care is unique among the advanced industrialized nations of the world. This ethos allows people who don’t have enough money or enough medical insurance to die everyday. We remain blind to the humanistic healthcare ethos of other nations, that result in greatly reduced costs and superior outcomes.

    Written on Wednesday, 18 April 2012 03:20 Read more...
  • Drug War Nightmare: How We Created a Massive Racial Caste System in America
    Drug War Nightmare: How We Created a Massive Racial Caste System in America

    The drug war has created a new Jim Crow system. Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation’s “triumph over race.”  Obama’s election has been touted as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow, the bookend placed on the history of racial caste in America. 

    Written on Tuesday, 27 March 2012 19:15 Read more...
  • How ALEC Is Creating Florida-Style Messes in Other States
    How ALEC Is Creating Florida-Style Messes in Other States

    Wisconsin is a rod-and-gun state, with a hunting history that has fostered traditions of broad gun ownership and respect for the right to bear arms.

    So how did Wisconsin get saddled with a “Castle Doctrine” law that mirrors some of the worst aspects of the Florida legislation that's now at the center of the controversy over the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

    Written on Tuesday, 27 March 2012 17:42 Read more...
  • We Need More Heels Running Around Capitol Hill
    We Need More Heels Running Around Capitol Hill

    "[I]t will come, but I shall not see it ... It is inevitable. We can no more deny forever the right of self-government to one-half our people than we could keep the Negro forever in bondage. It will not be wrought by the same disrupting forces that freed the slave, but come it will, and I believe within a generation."

    Written on Tuesday, 27 March 2012 13:31 Read more...
  • The 1%’s Doctrine for the 99%
    The 1%’s Doctrine for the 99%

    Many on the American Right insist federal actions from the Civil War to recent banking regulations were encroachments on states’ rights and personal liberties, but underlying these claims – in the 1860s and today – is the greed of the richest 1 percent treating the 99 percent as chattel, writes Mark Ames.

    Written on Monday, 26 March 2012 21:21 Read more...
  • Congress Takes a Step or Two Forward, Two Steps Back
    Congress Takes a Step or Two Forward, Two Steps Back

    Watching some of the news coming from Capitol Hill this week, two old music videos started buzzing around in our heads. One was the classic “I’m Just a Bill,” from Schoolhouse Rock, in which a beleaguered piece of legislation sits outside on the marble steps hoping to someday become a law.

    Written on Monday, 26 March 2012 21:15 Read more...

PDA In Your State

Join "Countdown to Coverage" Share TPP with your Daily Newspaper

CWA devised a simple plan for which they were uniquely suited: drag TPP out of the shadows and into the light - one city at a time - using a medium they understand intimately: Daily Newspapers!

Two CWA members - Dave Felice in Denver, CO and Madelyn Elder in Portland, OR have started the ball rolling. We just need to keep up the momentum leading up to a big day of petition deliveries.

Button-ShareTPPWithNewspaper

Step 1 is to send an Op-Ed to your Daily Newspaper.

Sign the TPP Fast Track Petitions

MoveOn.org Petition - Congress Don't Renew Fast Track

Public Citizen Petition - Congress Must Reject Fast Track Authority

MoveOn.org Petition - Stop the Trans Pacific Partnership

CREDO Petition - Stop the Massive Corporate Power Grab

 

TPP: The Biggest Threat to the Internet You've Probably Never Heard Of