Liberal “Reporting” Smears Another Good Citizen

Jane Mayer made a name for herself as a reporter by writing a book-length smear of Clarence Thomas titled Strange Justice. A favorite of the hard left, she has continued to turn out advocacy journalism through the years. She currently writes for the New Yorker; her well-nigh book-length hit piece on Charles and David Koch in August 2010–absurdly titled “Covert Operations”–was the genesis of the crazed leftist assault on the Kochs and their company that has been going on ever since.

The October 10 issue of the New Yorker includes Mayer’s latest effort on behalf of the Democratic Party, which could have been titled “Son of Koch.” Her subject is Art Pope, a North Carolina businessman who funds various conservative causes in that state. Mayer’s article is titled “State For Sale,” which pretty well sums up her thesis. Mayer is of the shamelessly hypocritical liberal money=good, conservative money=bad school.

Who is Art Pope? He isn’t well known outside North Carolina, but then, the Koch brothers weren’t very well known either, until Mayer turned them into the Left’s enemies #1 and #2. Pope is a lawyer who owns or co-owns a company called Variety Wholesalers, which operates a chain of discount stores in the South. Pope is the company’s CEO. He describes himself as a political conservative in contemporary American terms. Philosophically, he is a classical liberal who admires philosophers like John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. He served for a time in the North Carolina legislature and now contributes a number of conservative groups and causes, including the John Locke Foundation, North Carolina’s branch of Americans For Prosperity, Real Jobs NC, Civitas Action, and others, as well as North Carolina’s Republican Party and various individual candidates. According to Mayer, Art Pope is single-handedly responsible for North Carolina’s voting Republican in 2010.

You can think of Art Pope as a kind of mini-Charles Koch, a very smart conservative who puts his money where his philosophy is. Mayer makes the comparison explicit; of course, to her it is a searing indictment of Pope:

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 [Ed.: "Secret planning summits?" Good grief. I spoke at one a few years ago; the Kochs' semi-annual get-togethers are extraordinarily high-level seminars.] 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 is, in other words, a great American. Mayer employs the usual tricks of the trade to put Pope in a bad light. She tells the story of a noble liberal politician brought low by the forces of Mammon; her article begins with “John Snow, a retired Democratic judge who had represented the district in the State Senate for three terms, found himself subjected to one political attack after another.” Political attacks, of course, should only be made by liberals:

“The attacks just went on and on,” Snow told me recently. “My opponents used fear tactics. I’m a moderate, but they tried to make me look liberal.”

Snow, a modern-day Helen Gahagan Douglas, lost, and Mayer blames Art Pope. She even drags out Willie Horton. Of course, exposing “moderate” Democrats as liberals is one of the things conservatives can do if they have an advertising budget.

Mayer uses the age-old technique of telling Art Pope’s story through the eyes of his enemies. Here are some of the sources she relies on, in addition to John Snow, as she herself describes them: “Bob Phillips, the head of the North Carolina chapter of Common Cause;” “Fred Wertheimer, who heads Democracy 21, another group that works for campaign-finance reform;” “Margaret Dickson, a sixty-one-year-old retired radio broadcaster and media executive who … was seeking reëlection to the North Carolina State Senate [as a Democrat];” “Chris Heagarty, a Democratic lawyer, [who] ran for a legislative seat in Wake County, which includes Raleigh;” “Nina Szlosberg-Landis, a Democratic activist in Raleigh says…;” “According to an analysis of tax records by Democracy NC, a progressive government watchdog group…;” “Marc Farinella, a Democratic political consultant who was Obama’s 2008 campaign director in North Carolina…;” “Martin Nesbitt, Jr., the Democratic leader in the North Carolina Senate, says…;” “Mac McCorkle, a former Democratic campaign consultant in the state, who is now a visiting lecturer at Duke, recalls…;” “According to Gene Nichol, the chairman of the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity, at the U.N.C. School of Law…;” “David Parker, the chair of the Democratic Party in North Carolina, says…;” “Dean Debnam, a North Carolina businessman who backs progressive politics, says…;” “Bob Geary, a political reporter for the Indy, the alternative weekly in Durham, recalls…;” “In an e-mail, Chris Kromm, the executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies, said…;” “Critics describe Civitas as Pope’s conservative assembly line…;” “‘Civitas was clever,’ Bob Hall, the executive director of Democracy NC, the progressive watchdog group, says;” “Chris Fitzsimon, the founder and director of NC Policy Watch, a progressive think tank, says…;” “Martin Nesbitt, the Democratic leader, said…;” “The former U.N.C. president Bill Friday told me…;” “Bill Race, the former chairman of the classics department at U.N.C.-Chapel Hill, told me, ‘The Pope machine is narrow-minded and mean-spirited and poisoned the university;’” “Cat Warren, an English professor at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, who has been critical of Pope, says…;” “North Carolina Democrats accused Pope of engineering, in 2009, the re-segregation of public schools in Wake County…;” “The Reverend William Barber, the head of the North Carolina chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., … says…;” “Bob Hall, the Democracy North Carolina director, sees…;” “Chris Fitzsimon, of NC Policy Watch, says of Pope…;” “Jim Goodmon, the president and C.E.O. of Capitol Broadcasting Company, which owns the CBS and Fox television affiliates in Raleigh, says, ‘I was a Republican, but I’m embarrassed to be one in North Carolina because of Art Pope;’” “Martin Nesbitt, the Democratic leader in the State Senate, says…;” “Gary Pearce, a longtime Democratic consultant, says of Pope…;” “Nina Szlosberg-Landis, the Democratic activist, predicts…”

This is a common ploy–a liberal reporter interviews liberals and quotes them attacking a conservative–hey, I’m just a reporter, relating the facts! But Mayer takes it to such an extreme in this hit piece that it almost makes you laugh out loud.

So, what is it all about? Mayer is horrified by Pope’s classical liberal philosophy:

Pope told me that he cares deeply about the people of North Carolina; he just believes that they are better served by private enterprise than by public largesse. He therefore believes in cutting personal and corporate income taxes, reducing estate taxes, and cutting government spending. He questions the notion that government serves the public interest, and calls himself a supporter of “public-choice theory,” which views the political system as being driven largely by self-interest. At the same time, he donates to food banks and to shelters for the indigent. Robert H. Dorff, a professor at the U.S. Army War College, and a friend of Pope’s, said, “He’s a profound believer in charity. But he believes, philosophically, that it’s the role of others, not the government, to take care of others.”

Such views, which are increasingly entering the mainstream of American politics, incense progressives like Nichol…

“Increasingly entering the mainstream of American politics”? Those views were the mainstream of American politics for close to 200 years.

But that difference of opinion is a given. Mayer is hunting bigger game than Art Pope. Her real target seems to be Citizens United, a theme that ties together her smear of Clarence Thomas and her hit pieces on the Kochs and Pope:

Bob Phillips, the head of the North Carolina chapter of Common Cause…argues that the Court’s decision, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, has been a “game changer,” especially in the realm of state politics. In swing states like North Carolina—which the Democrats consider so important that they have scheduled their 2012 National Convention there—an individual donor, particularly one with access to corporate funds, can play a significant, and sometimes decisive, role. “We didn’t have that before 2010,” Phillips says. “Citizens United opened up the door. Now a candidate can literally be outspent by independent groups. We saw it in North Carolina, and a lot of the money was traced back to Art Pope.” …

“The disastrous Citizens United decision has opened the door wide to influence-buying,” [Fred Wertheimer] says.

This claim is made in an unsubtle way in the title of Mayer’s article, “State For Sale,” and an even less subtle way, if that is possible, in the magazine’s caricature of Pope, which depicts him with wads of cash in one pocket and the State of North Carolina in the other:

I interviewed Art Pope to find out what he thought about Mayer’s portrayal of him. He was, as you would expect, smart, principled and dedicated to the welfare of North Carolina and the United States.

Pope pointed out that Mayer virtually ignored the fact that the left has institutions and donors that advance its ideas and interests, too. The Reynolds Foundation–an inheritor of tobacco money–is, like Pope’s family foundation, a 501(c)(3) entity, and, along with groups like Blueprint North Carolina, has heavily funded liberal causes and candidates. Reynolds contributes more to liberal causes than Pope does to conservative ones. He also noted that Mayer falsely claims that when Pope makes donations from the Pope family foundation to public policy organizations like Civitas, “he is able to take tax write-offs.” In fact, Pope says, both the foundation and groups like Civitas are 501(c)(3)s, and a 501(c)(3) does not get a tax deduction when it donates to another 501(c)(3). But then, knowledge of the tax laws has never been a liberal strong point.

Pope also points out that neither he nor any group that he funds was responsible for any of the three television ads that Mayer claims were unfair. But let’s cut to the chase: the whole point of Mayer’s hit piece is that Art Pope and other nasty Republicans bought the 2010 elections in North Carolina by swamping them with conservative money:

So far, Pope’s strategy seems to be a success. Martin Nesbitt, the Democratic leader in the State Senate, says, “Art Pope set out to buy power, and it’s working.” He believes that Pope’s forces, by redrawing the political districts, are setting the stage to control the state for the next decade. Nesbitt says, “I don’t hold anyone’s political views against them. But any time you have the takeover we did, with the influence of money and absolute power, you have to worry. It’s a blue state that has a Democratic governor, and voted for Obama in 2008, but in two years they turned it into a red state, all because of their money.”

It is almost enough to make you feel sorry for those poor, underfunded Democrats, isn’t it? But wait! Art Pope notes that the Democrats and their liberal independent groups outspent the Republicans and their conservative groups in 2010–a fact that is notably absent from Mayer’s tale of woe. In 2008, the Democrats outspent the GOP nearly three to one, over $19 million to $7 million plus. In 2010, the Republicans closed the gap somewhat–courtesy of Art Pope and others–but the Democrats still spent more, $16 million to $14 million. More here. If anyone is buying elections in North Carolina, it is Democrats, not Republicans. Mayer had this information, but chose to suppress it in order to fool her readers.

What really happened in 2010 was that after two disastrous years of the Obama administration, the Republicans scored a huge, nationwide sweep. The GOP surge in North Carolina was duplicated in state after state. Republicans didn’t “buy” the election in North Carolina or anywhere else; in North Carolina and most other states, they were outspent. But voters, revolted by the overreach and incompetence of the Obama administration, pulled the GOP lever. Democrats can’t face that reality, so they peddle pathetic tales about Republican plutocrats buying elections, courtesy, supposedly, of Citizens United. Such thinking is delusional. It is unfortunate that good citizens like Art Pope are its drive-by victims.

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