Scott Mooneyham: Pope, state politics earn a big stage in New Yorker

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RALEIGH — The big talk and news around the state capital this week was … the news.

Or, maybe it wasn’t really news.

The New Yorker magazine published an extensive spread on Republican Party activist/retail magnate/political financier Art Pope. The response from the Raleigh political crowd: “What, you’re paying attention to little ol’ us?”

Covering ground that state media outlets had mostly walked before, the piece detailed how Pope pours millions into political races as well as conservative policy advocacy groups like the Locke Foundation and Civitas Institute. It showed how his money helped Republicans win majorities in the state legislature.

The writer, Jane Mayer, included a laundry list of complaints about Pope from Democratic politicians and operatives. She also mined some gems from the mouth of the man himself, delving into his philosophy and the past that has shaped his views.

(That Pope willingly shared his thoughts isn’t surprising. His reputation may be that of behind-the-scenes puppet master, but I’ve always found him accessible and civil.)

The most interesting aspect of the piece was not really anything found in the thoughts or words. It was the subject matter itself.

That North Carolina politics, particularly legislative politics, had become the focus of a magazine that targets the erudite and intellectual of New York shows just how important this state has become on the national political stage. (Sorry to prick your ego there, Art.)

As for the complaints about Pope — that he’s a one-man GOP influence machine -- they aren’t new. Former Democratic political operative Gary Pearce called the complaints “whining.”

Maybe he’s right.

As I’ve made clear in this column many times, I abhor the gobs of money that infect political races, even down to the state House level. It’s not that elections are for sale; it’s that many politicians — on a few issues important to key donors — are for sale.

But the man behind retail chains Roses and Maxway isn’t focused on influencing policy to benefit his business interests in a few key ways. He has a broader agenda. He wants to elect like-minded conservatives who widely share his vision of less market constraints and more social constraints.

It’s not just about his business interests. He wants a more conservative world.

Democrats should be about proving him wrong.

His Democratic critics also go silent when the subject turns to the man sometimes mentioned as his opposite in Raleigh — Jim Goodmon, the owner of WRAL-TV.

Goodmon’s political giving to Democrats doesn’t come close to Pope’s efforts to elect Republicans. It’s not insubstantial, though. Also, his family foundation is the primary funder of a liberal public policy group, NC Policy Watch.

And did I say that he owned a TV station?

There’s also a little hybridization there. Chris Fitzsimon, one of the two commentators for Policy Watch, is a former WRAL reporter who later went to work for a Democratic House speaker.

Nothing wrong with any of that, but there is a little pot-kettle problem here.

Capitol Press Association