Politics & Government

Art Pope, N.C. retail executive, is spending big for Republicans

RALEIGH, N.C. — The voters in Democratic Rep. Chris Heagarty's western Wake County district of have been inundated with mailings portraying him as a big spending, anti-education politician who wants a pay raise for himself, along with a host of other political sins.

Targeting Heagarty were five mailings from a group called Real Jobs NC, three from a group called Civitas Action Inc., and two from Americans for Prosperity.

What all three groups have in common is they are connected to one individual: Art Pope, a Raleigh retail executive who is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of his company's money to help Republicans win control of the legislature next week.

Pope's influence is omnipresent this election season, with groups tied to Pope spending $2.1 million so far to influence the legislative races, according to state and federal campaign records filed in recent days.

His involvement comes at a time when Republicans feel they have a good chance of winning control of the legislature for the first time in 112 years. A new crop of lawmakers could hold the balance of power in North Carolina for the next decade, drawing new congressional and legislative districts.

For Pope, this is a crusade to throw out a corrupt Democratic regime. For Democrats, this is a case of one of the richest men in the state trying to buy the legislature. But despite the charges and counter charges, it is all legal in the new world of campaign laws where the decades old ban on corporate contributions and strict limits on individual contributions is being replaced by free-wheeling and free-spending committees.

Besides sending streams of campaign literature as well as beaming TV advertising into targeted Democratic districts across the state, Pope-connected organizations conducted a bus tour across the state to build support for conservative candidates. And it was a Pope-connected group that held "tea party summits" in May in Hickory and Wilmington to help organize conservatives.

Pope's activism has angered Democrats. The state Democratic Party today plans to announce a boycott campaign against the stores owned by Pope's private company, Variety Wholesalers, Inc. Less than a quarter of the company's 440 stores are located in North Carolina, including Roses, Maxway and Super Dollar stores.

"Art Pope has been investing hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, funding organizations that attack Democratic candidates from Murphy to Manteo," said Andrew Whalen, executive director of the state Democratic Party.

"These groups are agitating for right-wing candidates that are bad for North Carolina," Whalen added.

Pope said he would not let a threatened boycott deter him from his political involvement, nor did he think any such boycott would be effective.

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