North Carolina Newspapers Largely Ignore Conservative Funding Of Sham Think Tanks
Research ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER
Local North Carolina newspapers cited two right-wing sham think tanks and published op-eds by their staffs while often failing to note their connections to the state's Republican party and to a major conservative donor.
North Carolina Newspapers Cited The John Locke Foundation And Civitas Institute More Than 150 Times In The Last 6 Months Often Without Disclosure Of Conservative Funding
John Locke Foundation (JLF)
John Locke Foundation Had Op-Eds Published Or Was Cited 106 Times In The Last 6 Months. Between June 1 and December 1, the John Locke Foundation appeared in local and national newspapers a total of 106 times. These appearances included op-eds and references by name in straight news and editorial articles.
64 Percent Of Articles That Referenced JLF Did Not Disclose The Organization's Conservative Leaning. Out of the 106 JLF mentions in the last six months, only 38 articles disclosed the foundation's conservative slant, meaning 64 percent of the articles made no mention of the organization's ideology.
Less Than 5 Percent Of Articles Referencing JLF Disclosed The Organization's Right-Wing Funding. Out of the 106 JLF mentions, only five articles mentioned the conservative sources of funding that support the foundation.
The Civitas Institute Had Opinions Published Or Was Cited 55 Times In The Last 6 Months. Between June 1 and December 1, the Civitas Institute appeared in local and national newspapers 55 times. These appearances included op-eds and references by name in straight news and editorial articles.
30 Percent Of Articles Referencing The Civitas Institute Did Not Disclose The Organization's Conservative Ideology. Seventeen of the 55 reports that included op-eds by or reference to the Civitas Institute made no disclosure of the organization's conservative leaning.
85 Percent Of Articles Referencing The Civitas Institute Did Not Disclose The Organization's Funding By Major Conservative Donors. Only 8 of the 55 articles that mentioned the Civitas Institute included information about the conservative donors that back Civitas Institute.
JLF And Civitas Insitute Are Members Of The State Policy Network Which Coordinates Groups To Push Conservative Agenda
Center For Media And Democracy: State Policy Network (SPN) Members "Are Major Drivers Of The Right-Wing, ALEC-Backed Agenda In State Houses Nationwide." According to a report by the Center for Media and Democracy, the SPN "'think tanks' work together in coordinated efforts to push their agenda, often using the same cookie-cutter research and reports, all while claiming to be independent and creating state-focused solutions that purportedly advance the interests or traditions of the state." The report also states:
Although many of SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, our in-depth investigation reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, ALEC-backed agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders, all while reporting little or no lobbying activities. Acknowledging the groups' political power and that their activities make them into something different than think tanks, conservative commentator Michelle Malkin called one SPN member a "do" tank. [Center for Media and Democracy, November 2013]
The Civitas Institute And JLF Are "Watchdog Bureau[s]" For Conservative Group Known For Pushing Misleading Information
The Civitas Institute Is Part Of The "Dark Money"-Funded Franklin Center. The Center for Media and Democracy's Source Watch reported that the Civitas Institute is listed as a Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity "Watchdog Bureau." As Media Matters has noted, 95 percent of the Franklin Center's funding comes from Donors Trust -- once dubbed the "dark money ATM of the conservative movement" -- which counts the Koch brothers and other major conservative donors as its benefactors. The Franklin Center pushes conservative stories to state news outlets to "fill the void created by state newsroom layoffs," and promote right-wing ideology, but its affiliates have published inaccurate information while "fail[ing] to set the record straight." [Center for Media and Democracy, accessed 12/2/13; Center for Media and Democracy, accessed 12/2/13; Media Matters, 7/11/12; Media Matters, 2/22/13]
The John Locke Foundation Also Has Connections To Franklin Center. According to the Center for Media and Democracy's Source Watch, the JLF received "95 percent of its 2011 funding" from the "dark money" DonorsTrust while acting as a "watchdog bureau" for the Franklin Center -- a group whose affiliates often push misleading conservative stories to state news outlets. [Center for Media and Democracy, accessed 12/2/13; Center for Media and Democracy, accessed 12/2/13; Media Matters, 7/11/12; Media Matters, 2/22/13]
North Carolina Budget Policy Head, Art Pope, Is Primary Funder For Civitas And JLF
WRAL: Art Pope Was Appointed Head Of North Carolina's Budget Policy By Republican Gov. McCrory. Local North Carolina television station WRAL reported that Art Pope was named budget director under Governor Pat McCrory (R):
Art Pope, backer of Republican candidates and fiscally conservative nonprofit groups, will serve as Gov. Pat McCrory's head of budget policy, the incoming governor announced Thursday.
Although he was introduced as the "deputy budget director," McCrory said Pope will be in charge of crafting the executive branch's budget proposal, and will be a key administration player who works with legislative leaders on tax reform.
He served four terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives before becoming director of the right-leaning Americans for Prosperity, a national group that helped provide some of the organizational underpinning for the Tea Party movement. In North Carolina, Pope, his business and his family foundation fund an array of groups such as the John Locke Foundation and Civitas Institute, which have provided a drum beat for conservative and libertarian ideas. He has also been a major contributor to Real Jobs NC, an independent expenditure group that backed candidates for the legislature. [WRAL, 12/20/12]
Pope Imitates Koch Brothers By Creating Policy Organizations That Support His Ideology. According to The New Yorker, Pope -- who has been a board member of the Koch-funded Americans For Prosperity -- uses his millions to create and support conservative policy organizations:
This wealth has enabled Pope to participate in the public arena on a scale that few individuals can match. Some have compared him to Charles and David Koch, the conservative oil-and-chemical magnates, whom Pope regards as friends; Pope has at times joined forces with them, attending some of their semi-annual secret planning summits and, through the family foundation, contributing millions to many of the same causes. Pope, in addition to being on the board of Americans for Prosperity--which David Koch founded, in 2004--served on the board of its predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy, which Koch co-founded, in 1984. Charles Koch recently praised the Popes, along with other donors, for providing financial support for the 2012 election effort, and 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. Pope, in fact, helped fund the legal center run by James Bopp, the lawyer who made the initial filing in the Citizens United case.
In pursuit of his goals, Pope, like the Kochs, has created a network combining a family fortune, the resources of a large private company, and family-funded policy organizations. 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. Pope claims that these organizations are independent of his control, but, on average, the Pope family foundation supplies them with more than eighty-five per cent of their funds. Though these groups are officially defined as philanthropic, almost all parts of the Pope enterprise push the same aggressively pro-business, anti-government message. Because Pope funds the groups through his family foundation, he is able to take tax writeoffs. "I am careful to comply with the law," Pope says. "And I keep my personal activities separate from my philanthropic, public-policy, grassroots, and independent expenditure efforts." But, by taking full advantage of recent changes in tax and campaign-finance law, he has created a singular influence machine that, according to critics, blurs the lines between tax-deductible philanthropy and corporate-funded partisan advocacy. [The New Yorker, 10/10/11]
Institute for Southern Studies: Art Pope Provided 99 Percent Of Funding For The Civitas Institute From 2005 To 2009. According to the Institute for Southern Studies, Pope provided the Civitas Institute with 99 percent of its funding revenue from 2005 to 2009:
Take, for example, the Civitas Institute, a think tank launched in 2005 to "facilitate the implementation of conservative policy solutions." Civitas is a so-called 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit -- like the Institute for Southern Studies, publisher of Facing South -- named after the IRS tax code governing nonprofit groups.
Civitas owes its existence almost entirely to the generosity of Art Pope. A Facing South comparison of the tax records filed by the Civitas Institute and the John W. Pope Foundation -- which Art Pope chairs, and whose philanthropy John Hood acknowledges Pope oversees -- reveals that Pope's backing has constituted more than 99 percent of all the grants, donations and gifts that Civitas has received between 2005 and 2009. [Institute for Southern Studies, 0]
Center For Media And Democracy: "The John Locke Foundation Receives Around 80 Percent Of Its Funding From Art Pope." The Center for Media and Democracy reported that the John Locke Foundation receives around 80 percent of their funding from Art Pope:
The John Locke Foundation receives around 80 percent of its funding from Art Pope, who controls the institute's agenda from its board of directors. It received over $2.5 million from the Pope family foundation in fiscal years 2010-2011. From its founding in the early 1990s until 2006, "the organization was not taken seriously," according to one North Carolina political figure, but when Pope gained control of his family's fortune in 2006 he began to invest significantly in the organization as he aimed to gain a voice in North Carolina conservative policy circles. [The Center for Media and Democracy, accessed 12/2/13]
Art Pope's Think Tanks Push Conservative Ideology In Line With Pope's Views
Civitas Institute Presented Tax Reform Research In The Same Week Pope Was Named Budget Director. According to WRAL, the Civitas Institute proposed eliminating income taxes in the same week that Pope was named the state's budget director:
[NC Gov] McCrory said that Pope will be "a full-time volunteer" and take leave from his nonprofit positions and his family business. McCrory pointed out that Pope was a co-author who helped create the state's rainy day fund, an emergency reserve used to respond to emergencies such as hurricanes.
"Whether it's fair or not, he is one of the most polarizing political figures in North Carolina. And now he is writing a state budget for nearly 10 million people," said Chris Fitzsimon, a policy analyst and writer with the liberal N.C. Policy Watch. "It's shocking that a governor who claims he is trying to reach across the aisle would make such an appointment."
Pope-funded Civitas has distributed a tax reform blueprint this week that would eliminate the individual income tax in favor of raising the sales tax and broadening the number of items and services to which sales tax applies. Fitzsimon questioned whether work like that by those think tanks will now become official McCrory administration positions. [WRAL, 12/20/12]
Civitas Institute Set Up Online Game Using Protestors' Personal Information To Undermine "Moral Monday" Demonstrations. According to the Institute for Southern Studies, the Civitas Institute created a database providing information on protestors surrounding the Moral Monday demonstrations which include acts of civil disobedience in response to right-wing legislation. The Civitas game uses personal information to match the protestor's mug shot to their information:
The John W. Pope Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank based in Raleigh, N.C., has launched a database targeting people who've been arrested as part of the Moral Monday nonviolent protests at the state legislature.
The Civitas Institute was founded by conservative mega-donor and discount-retail mogul Art Pope, now the North Carolina budget director under Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, and it was named for Pope's father. The nonprofit gets about 94 percent of its funding from the family foundation Pope chairs. That raises questions about the ethics of a public official who's been a target of the protests being involved in an apparent effort to target the protesters for harassment -- or worse.
The database offers infographics detailing demographic and political characteristics of those arrested. And it offers a "Pick the Protester Game" in which visitors to the database are shown three mugshots and asked a question about them, such as "Which protester is 55 years old?" or "Which protester is from Orange County?"
The protests oppose the legislature's far-right agenda, which has included rejecting federal funds to expand health care for the poor, curtailing voting rights, cutting unemployment benefits, and restarting the death penalty.
North Carolina's current legislature is controlled by a Republican supermajority that was elected with generous funding from Pope and his immediate family, and from outside spending groups supported by Pope and his business, the North Carolina-based Variety Wholesalers discount retail chain. The supermajority was also enabled by a controversial redistricting process that favored Republicans and packed minorities into majority-minority districts while diluting their power elsewhere, and to which Pope served as an advisor. [Institute for Southern Studies, 6/19/13]
The New Yorker: Echoing Pope, Civitas And The John Locke Foundation Have Said Poverty Is Overblown. According to The New Yorker, leaders of both the Pope-funded Civitas Institute and John Locke Foundation have said the perils of poverty have been overblown:
Pope believes that wealth is the just reward for talent and hard work, and that all Americans have a fair chance at success. Using Michael Jordan and rock stars as examples, he said, "Why should they be deprived of that money--why is that unfair?" He said, "I'm not envious of the wealth that Bill Gates has," and added, "America does not have an aristocracy or a plutocracy." Citing I.R.S. data, and the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans, he said that "wealth creation and wealth destruction is constantly happening. And, really, when you look at the lowest income, most of that is just simply a factor of age and marriage. If you're young and single--and God forbid if you're young and a single parent, and don't have a high-school education--then your earnings will be low, and you'll be in the bottom twenty per cent. But, usually, as people get older . . . they save and retain wealth, and work their way up."
The Pope network echoes this message. Dallas Woodhouse, the director of Americans for Prosperity North Carolina--a branch that was founded by Pope--rails against tax increases for the well-off, and explained to me that "in some parts of the country couples earning two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year are just middle class." Meanwhile, Bob Luebke, a researcher at the John W. Pope Civitas Institute, in Raleigh, which the Pope family foundation almost single-handedly funds, has written that the poor in America live better than the "picture most liberals like to paint." The evidence he offered was a new study, by the conservative Heritage Foundation, claiming that a majority of the poor have refrigerators, cable television, microwaves, and shelter. "The media obsession with pervasive homelessness also appears to be a myth," Luebke declared. Similarly, John Hood, the John Locke Foundation's president, has written that "the extent of true poverty in North Carolina and around the country is woefully overestimated," and that the poverty that does exist is largely the result of "self-destructive behavior." [The New Yorker, 10/10/11]
Pope Uses Civitas And John Locke Foundation To Deny Climate Change. According to the Institute of Southern Studies, Pope contributed more than $9 million to climate deniers in from July 2011 through June 2012:
[The Institute for Southern Studies, 2/6/13]
News & Observer: Civitas President Francis De Luca Was Named To State Ethics Commission. The Raleigh News & Observer reported that the president of the Civitas Institute and former state director for Americans for Prosperity was named to the state Ethics Commission:
Longtime Republican player Francis X. De Luca has been named to the N.C. Ethics Commission.
De Luca will fill the term of former state auditor Les Merritt, who resigned in September to avoid conflict with his job as a contractor with the state health and human services agency. The term expires at the end of 2016.
De Luca has run political campaigns in the state for more than two decades and was once state director of Americans for Prosperity. He is currently president of the conservative policy group Civitas.
The eight-member Ethics Commission meets at least quarterly. Along with staff, it provides informal and formal advice on ethical and lobbying laws, and investigates complaints. [News & Observer, 11/20/13]
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of all U.S. newspapers over the last six months to identify articles mentioning, op-eds placed by, or opinion pieces referencing either the John Locke Foundation or the Civitas Institute. The search covered the six months from June 1 to December 1, 2013. To find articles for JLF the search term "John Locke Foundation" was used as the search string, and to find Civitas Institute material, the term "Civitas Institute" was used.