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Art Pope and Co. anchor McCrory transition

Governor-Elect Pat McCrory's transition team includes conservative stalwart and political contributor Art Pope and several others who worked at Pope-funded organizations.

Political operatiave Jack Hawke is a former president of the John W. Pope Civitas Institute. He's part of the transition team leadership.

Transition director Thomas Stith is a former Civitas Institute vice president.

Lindsey Wakely worked at the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, and is former legal counsel for Pope's company, Variety Wholesalers. She's the transition lawyer.

Pope is CEO and chairman of Variety Wholesalers and chairman and president of the John William Pope Foundation. He is a co-chairman overseeing transition operations.

Pope: 'Pope Inc.' doesn't exist

Art Pope wants to make it clear: there is no such thing as "Pope Inc."

Today, in a meeting with News & Observer reporters and editors, the conservative businessman and former legislator made reference to the phrase "Pope Political Inc." in a 2006 N&O story that chronicled Pope's influence on the right in North Carolina.

"Literally we had some people calling, saying, 'Can I get a job with Pope Inc.'?" Pope quipped. "Well, no you can't."

Pope of Raleigh is the chairman and CEO of Variety Wholesalers, Inc., a company that owns 400 discount stores in 14 states. His family foundation, the John William Pope Foundation, is a benefactor of several think tanks, including the John Locke Foundation, the John William Pope Center for Higher Education and the John W. Pope Civitas Institute.

Pope points out the groups all have different boards with broad membership. There is no central management or direction, like you would have in a corporation, Pope said.

Instead, he said, the foundation is something akin to Winston-Salem-based Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, which has a history of giving to causes on the left of the political spectrum.

And, Pope said, don't forget the Pope Foundation also gives to non-idealogical charities. He cited a recent $1 million donation to Hospice of Wake County for its new building.

Pope says he had no involvement with the new policies of the Wake County school board, though he did donate money to the Wake County Republican Party, which backed the candidates now rewriting the board's policies. 

Merritt starts foundation to fight corruption

Former state auditor Les Merritt has formed a nonprofit foundation dedicated to rooting out public corruption.

The Foundation for Ethics in Public Service opened its doors in May and exists to help expose corruption across the nation, Merritt said. Unlike his time as auditor, Merritt won't have the advantage of being able to order agencies to cooperate. He said the foundation will rely on the same tactics and methods used by investigative journalists — good tips and public records.

"We need more watchdogs you just can't get too many out there," Merritt said.

Merritt, a Republican, lost his seat last year to Democrat Beth Wood.

The foundation will rely on anonymous tips for many of its investigations. Others may come from journalists, who because of staff cuts, don't have the time to pursue stories in detail. The foundation can check things out and turn the information over to reporters, he said.

Frank Perry, a retired FBI agent and former investigations chief under Merritt will direct investigations for the foundation.

Merritt said the foundation has a funding pledge from the John William Pope Foundation, which is directed by conservative patron and former lawmaker Art Pope.

Merritt says that his organization will be nonpartisan. Merritt said he does not plan to run for auditor again.

"I honestly believe this can be more worthwhile," he said. "I don't ever plan on running agin. It's certainly not helping me get set up that way. This can be a whole lot more fun."

Pope Center to honor college courses

The Pope Center for Higher Education Policy used to skewer college classes in its "Course of the Month" selection, which heaped scorn on classes with a multicultural, feminist or pop culture theme.

Now it's taking a more positive approach, with its first Spirit of Inquiry Contest, according to a news release. The goal is to find the best undergraduate courses "that allow students freedom to explore ideas within the context of a serious academic discipline," the release said.

The faculty member who teaches the winning course will receive an award of $1,000 for education and research-related expenses, Jane Stancill reports. Second and third finalists will receive awards of $750 and $500.

That could provoke a ruckus among professors who have fought against proposed donations to UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State from the John William Pope Foundation, which tends to fund conservative causes.

Students are encouraged to nominate courses in the Pope Center's new contest. If a student nominates the winning course, he or she will receive $250 worth of textbooks. Courses taught at all public, private and community colleges in North Carolina are eligible.

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