The Bradley Foundation’s New Pope
New chairman James Arthur Pope could turn foundation further right.
It is frankly difficult to imagine the Bradley Foundation becoming any more right wing and nakedly political than it already is. As I wrote a month ago, the foundation seems to be thumbing its nose at the prohibition against charitable foundations engaging in political activity while spending heavily to turn “Democratic-leaning blue states into Republican-leaning red states.”
But in April there was a bit of a board shake up at the foundation that could have ominous consequences. Long-time, Milwaukee-based trustee David Uihlein suddenly quit the board, I’m told, because as a vice-chairman he expected to be elevated to chairman when Dennis J. Kuester stepped down from that position, after reaching the mandatory age — 75 years old — of retirement. But instead of Uihlein, the board chose to elevate relative newcomer James Arthur Pope, who had joined the board in 2014, to the position of chairman.
Pope is a significant character in Jane Mayer’s watershed book, Dark Money, on the Koch Brothers and the rise of the radical right. Whereas Kuester, Pope’s predecessor as chairman, was a businessman (a retired president of the old M&I bank) with Republican views, Pope is a politician first, with rabidly right-wing views who used his family foundation money to almost single-handedly turn North Carolina into a red state and to help bankroll a gerrymandering scheme the U.S. Supreme Court overturned as unconstitutional for targeting and reducing the impact of black voters with “almost surgical precision.”
Pope is a “my way or the highway” kind of guy who was widely disliked even by Republicans in North Carolina, where he served stints as a legislator and as a state budget director, as a New Yorker story by Mayer found. He is likely to be very controlling as Bradley board chair and the direct supervisor of Bradley executive director Rick Graber. He can also use his own foundation’s money as leverage to match Bradley grants to the causes he favors. The elevation of a non-Wisconsinite to board chair may also signal a move to devote less spending on state groups and causes.
Pope grew up in a very wealthy family that owned a retail chain now called Variety Wholesalers. Scott Plale, who was campaign manager for Pope when he ran unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor in North Carolina, told Mayer that Pope got half a million dollars in loans from his parents to run. Pope, he noted, “wasn’t just born on third base. He started out within an inch of home plate.”
Variety Wholesalers’ website says it targets lower-income minority neighborhoods for locating its stores, one analysis notes. Two criteria for opening a new store: “Minimum 25% African-American population within 5 miles; Median household income of $40,000 or less.”
“Many workers at the stores are paid less than a living wage with few benefits and wind up relying on public assistance to support their families,” the group Democracy North Carolina charges. “Rather than creating good jobs, Pope’s business is heavily subsidized by government funds and traps its workers in near-poverty conditions.”
But his agenda is far more wide reaching than that. According to the Raleigh News and Observer, Pope “has invested millions in a network of foundations and think tanks, and advocacy groups, both in North Carolina and nationally, that are designed to further conservative and free market ideas.”
Pope was crucial in the 2010 election that placed both houses of the North Carolina legislature under Republican majorities for the first time since 1870, Mayer writes. “According to an analysis by the Institute for Southern Studies, of the twenty-two legislative races targeted by him, his family, and their organizations, the Republicans won eighteen…Three-quarters of the spending by independent groups in North Carolina’s 2010 state races came from accounts linked to Pope. The total amount that Pope, his family, and groups backed by him spent… was $2.2 million.”
The ads run by these groups were vicious and often deceitful. Democrat Chris Heagarty was targeted by by two groups funded by Pope. “One ad accused him of having voted ‘to raise taxes over a billion dollars,’ even though he had not yet served in the legislature,” Mayer writes. “Another ad depicted Heagarty, who has dark hair and a dark complexion, as Hispanic. (He is Caucasian.) The ad was sponsored by the North Carolina Republican Party, to which Pope had contributed in 2008. Heagarty said, “They slapped a sombrero on a photo of me, and wrote, ‘Mucho Taxo! Adios, Señor!’ ”
“If you put all of the Pope groups together, they and the North Carolina G.O.P. spent more to defeat me than the guy who actually won,” Heagerty said. “For an individual to have so much power is frightening. The government of North Carolina is for sale.”
“Pope created a climate of fear,” Chris Kromm, the executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies, told Mayer. “He has a whole network that can reward or punish Republicans. . . . It enforces ideological conformity, and gets people in line. . . . He just keeps pushing this far-down-the-spectrum view relentlessly, until it’s viewed as common consensus.” As a prominent Republican in the state told Mayer, “There weren’t a lot of Republicans willing to cross Art after that.”
“The Pope family foundation…reportedly has assets of nearly a hundred and fifty million dollars,” Mayer reports. “Some have compared him to Charles and David Koch… Pope has at times joined forces with them, attending some of their semi-annual secret planning summits… Tax records show that Pope has given money to at least twenty-seven groups supported by the Kochs, including organizations opposing environmental regulations, tax increases, unions, and campaign-spending limits.”
“Of the forty million dollars that his network has spent in the past decade, thirty-five million has gone to half a dozen ostensibly nonpartisan policy groups, which he has been instrumental in creating and directing,” Mayer writes. “He has created a singular influence machine that, according to critics, blurs the lines between tax-deductible philanthropy and corporate-funded partisan advocacy.”
The non-profit Civitas Insitute, which got 97 per cent of its funding from the Pope family foundation, “underwrites polls on issues of the day—posing questions that critics have called biased—and disseminates its findings in order to support right-wing arguments,” Mayer reports. “These polls save conservative candidates a lot of expense.”
“Civitas was clever,” Bob Hall, the executive director of Democracy NC, told Mayer. “It takes campaign expenses—like polling, message development, and voter-turnout analysis—and makes them tax-deductible.”
The liberal Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), which has done a series of investigative reports on the Bradley Foundation, recently reported that the Pope network has a history of trying to suppress voter rights. The online magazine Facing South found that from 2009 through 2013, Civitas and the John Locke Foundation (also funded by Pope) published more than 50 articles, op-eds and blog posts “ginning up fear of voter fraud,” often with inaccurate claims. “One such article from 2010 absurdly claims that thousands of 110-year-olds were voting in North Carolina, a claim PolitiFact confirmed was false,” the CMD notes.
After Pope joined the Bradley board, the Milwaukee foundation gave a $1.5-million grant to fund a “Mapping the Left” website the Pope network helped create, “which profiles North Carolina liberals and tries to cast them in a negative light,” CMD reports. “The Institute for Southern Studies… noted that: ‘Civitas’ database brings to mind another troubling episode of mid-20th century U.S. history: how in some Southern cities at that time the white-supremacist White Citizens’ Councils… would publish in local newspapers the names of NAACP supporters and those who signed anti-segregation petitions in order to encourage retaliation against them.’ Civitas has repeatedly attacked Rev. Dr. William Barber, the state NAACP president.”
Don’t be surprised to see the Bradley Foundation follow Pope’s lead in creating privately funded centers within the state’s public university system. In North Carolina, Pope donated more than half a million dollars for free-market-related programs in the economics department. “The grant has funded annual lectures, all of which have been given by prominent conservative and free-market thinkers,” Mayer writes. A dozen members of the economics faculty have been listed as ‘John Locke Foundation Affiliates’”, meaning they get funding from this Pope group.
As a 2015 report by one of the non-profits connected to Pope noted, “privately funded academic centers within universities were ideal devices by which wealthy conservatives could replace the faculty’s views with their own,” Dark Money recounts.
Under the leadership of it new board chairman, the Bradley Foundation is likely to increase its connections and shared agenda with the Pope network. James Arthur Pope’s history provides a forecast of his style of operation; to put it simply, he likes to rule by fiat and fear.
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