Art Pope

"I will not be shut up."
CEO, Variety Wholesalers

James “Art” Pope is the CEO of Variety Wholesalers, a discount retail chain he inherited from his father, and chairman of the John William Pope Foundation

Pope is an influential financier of libertarian causes within his home state of North Carolina as well as on the national level.  Pope has direct experience in the politics of his state as a four-time member of North Carolina’s House of Representatives, a two-time delegate for the Republican National Convention, and as special counsel to the governor.

Art Pope's Appointment to North Carolina Deputy Budget Director

After being elected Governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory appointed Art Pope as his deputy budget director in December, 2012. Pope and his family donated $20,000 to McCrory's campaign, $125,000 to the NC Republican Party and financed groups that spent over $5.4 million in effort to support McCrory's campaign, mostly through advertising. Americans for Prosperity directly aided Pat McCrory's 2012 candidacy, at a time when Art Pope was still a founding director of Americans for Prosperity's national chapter. Pope served as McCrory's deputy budget director until August, 2014.


"I will not be shut up."

-News Observer, October 28, 2010


Art Pope and the Koch Brothers

Art Pope is a close associate of Charles and David Koch. He is a repeated attendee at Koch's twice-annual donor summits, which raise hundreds of millions of dollars to influence state and national elections, numerous political issues and higher education. At a Koch donor summit in 2011, Charles Koch personally commended Art Pope as one of the donors who put up at least one million dollars.

Art Pope Control of North Carolina State Policy Network Groups

As chairman of the John William Pope Foundation, Art Pope has heavily financed the State Policy Network, as well as many of SPN's 300+ affiliated organizations. The State Policy Network is both an organization and a network, a web of state and national organizations used by the Koch brothers, Art Pope and other corporate executives to exert influence on political battles under the guise of independent advocacy. Pope founded SPN members like the John Locke Foundation, the Civitas Institute, the John William Pope Center for Higher Education, and Americans for Prosperity's North Carolina chapter.

Coordinating with a model bill introduced by American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)'s member state representative Mike Hager, John Locke Foundation, Civitas and AFP were all involved in a legislative attack on North Carolina's renewable portfolio standard. The unsuccessful attempt to roll back North Carolina's clean energy incentives was mirrored in over a dozen other states by other ALEC legislators and State Policy Network affiliates, most notably Kansas and Ohio.

Funding of Climate Science Denial Campaigns

According to the Institute for Southern Studies, Art Pope shares heavy political capital with Charles and David Koch, using wealth from his family foundation to heavily finance groups that are involved in denying the existence, science or seriousness of global warming. While the Koch’s gave $48.5 million to organizations in the climate denial machine from 1997-2008, Pope single-handedly contributed $24.1 million.  The Kochs tie for fifth on Forbes’ list of the 400 richest Americans; Pope does not make the list.

Pope shares heavy influence with the Kochs over the astroturf organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP); he was a founding director of AFP as well as the vice chairman of its sister organization, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. While governing both groups, Pope was also the second-largest institutional contributor to the AFP Foundation, giving over $1 million to the organization from 1997-2008. Before AFP was formed, Art Pope helped the Kochs and Koch Industries executive Richard Fink found AFP's predecessor, Citizens for a Sound Economy. 

Pope has almost exclusively funded conservative North Carolina think tanks like Civitas Action, which has strong ties to Americans For Prosperity’s North Carolina chapter, and the John Locke Foundation, which Pope chairs and has donated over $16 million since 1997. The John Locke Foundation claims, “There is nothing North Carolina can do, either by itself or in conjunction with other states, that will have a noticeable or beneficial impact on the climate,” and works to undo state commitments to increase the use of renewable energy through Senate Bill 3 (SB3), a law passed in 2007.  John Locke Foundations’ climate-related recommendations are simple: “Abandon all state attempts to fight global warming,” and “Repeal already adopted legislation such as SB3.”

The John Locke Foundation has been particularly active in fighting against policies and regulations designed to prevent and mitigate climate change, as documented by Sue Sturgis at the Institute for Southern Studies. Sturgis has also compiled examples of Pope-funded climate science denial at the Civitas Institute, Americans for Prosperity and the Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University, chaired by Charles Koch.

Influencing Education

University of North Carolina System - Art Pope Seeking UNC Presidency?

As a former NC legislator, former NC budget director, financier of organizations that influence higher education and longtime trustee of the University of North Carolina (UNC) school system, Art Pope has had a long relationship with UNC as a multi-million dollar donor, a NC state budget director and a financier of groups that influence UNC's 17 member universities. Pope has used these overlapping influences to exert influence over UNC, and has in the past tried and failed to seek other forms of influence over UNC. Pope unsuccessfully sought a seat on UNC's Board of Governors in 1995; though he didn't obtain one, the Board of Governors has included close political allies of Art Pope's.

Amid rumors of Pope's desire to take over as president of the UNC system, which includes 17 universities, UNC President Tom Ross was suddenly forced out of his position without any clear reason from UNC's trustees. At the same time, Art Pope stepped down as president of the John William Pope Foundation, replaced by former John Locke Foundation president John Hood. Pope remains the foundation's chairman. He has denied interest in the UNC presidency.

Art Pope is a major donor to the UNC school system, sending millions of dollars to UNC Chapel Hill and buying himself direct access to top UNC officials. At the same time, in his tenure as NC budget director, Pope advocated for millions of dollars in cuts to UNC's budget. These cuts were then advocated by Pope's nonprofit dedicated to influencing higher education, the John William Pope Center for Higher Education, a spinoff of the Pope-controlled John Locke Foundation.

The John William Pope Center for Higher Education is run by Jane Shaw, married to Richard Stroup, who co-authored an economics textbook that denies the science of climate change. Stroup's co-authors on the misleading textbook work at Koch-funded departments at schools like Florida State University. Shaw's work has included publishing the voting records of UNC professors in order to paint the campus as "liberal," and advocating for aggressive budget cuts to the UNC system ("starve the beast," Shaw advocated to legislators).

Pope's attack on UNC's budget has had consequences. Jane Mayer explained in an article published by the New Yorker: 

"At the university level, the cuts are expected to result in layoffs, tuition hikes, and fewer scholarships, even though the state’s constitution specifically requires that higher education be made as free 'as practicable' to all residents."

Art Pope's father, John William Pope, was a trustee of the UNC system. According to Jane Mayer,

"His father, whom a family acquaintance describes as 'domineering,' became known as a particularly outspoken trustee at U.N.C.-Chapel Hill, which he believed had been taken over by radical scholars.

High School Curriculums

Through the John William Pope Foundation, Art Pope has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Bill of Rights Institute, a group founded by the Kansas billionaire Koch brothers to influence how the Constitution is taught to high school students. Similar programs in Kansas are under the direct supervision of Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries.