Under the Dome

Did Art Pope kill judicial public financing?

Art Pope played a pivotal role in killing legislation designed to keep big money from deciding high court races, an advocacy group asserts.

Pope, budget director for Gov. Pat McCrory and a major conservative political donor, was seen lobbying state Rep. Jonathan Jordan outside the House chambers Tuesday afternoon, after Jordan offered a compromise amendment that would have preserved public financing for appellate judges.

Shortly after speaking with Pope, Jordan withdrew the amendment, and the House voted to kill North Carolina's 10-year program of public financing, according to Melissa Price Kromm, director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, who witnessed the conversation.

The public financing program was started by Democrats, but has never been popular among many Republicans for philosophical reasons. It is financed by a voluntary $3 tax check off on the state income tax form and a $50 fee paid by lawyers.

Nearly all the members of the N.C. Court of Appeals recently wrote a letter to lawmakers asking them.

During the budget debate, Jordan, a Republican attorney from Jefferson, filed a compromise amendment that would have had the appellate races funded only by attorney's fees, so that no public money would be involved.

But Pope has been a long-time foe of public financing, going back to his days as a state legislator. The various organizations that he and his family have helped start and finance, such as the John Locke Foundation, have been outspoken in their opposition to such programs.

Jordan has close ties to Pope. When he was first elected to the state House in 2010 he received $16,000 from Pope and his family, according to The Institute for Southern Studies. Three groups associated with Pope – Americans for Prosperity, Civitas Action, and Real Jobs NC – gave $91,500 to Jordan's campaign.

Jordan worked two years in the late 1990s' as a research director at the John Locke Foundation, a group started and funded by Pope and his family.

UPDATE: When asked if he had talked about judicial financing with Jordan, Pope said as budget director he discussed numerous pending amendments to budget bills.
"And of course the governor's recommended budget proposed to stop giving taxpayer dollars to political campaigns," Pope said in an email. "That position has not changed, and I have stated this to the legislators, members of the public, and organizations such as Common Cause when they have asked about the issue.''
"It is my general policy not to repeat individual conversations with legislators," Pope added. "Rep. Jordan, of course, is free to discuss his amendment, and any conversations he had with me, Common Cause or others about it.''
Jordan was not immediately available for comment.


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