One of North Carolina's better political reporters, Bob Geary, has done a decent job in recent months covering the monstrosity known as the Art Pope Puppetshow. In fact, he did a particularly good job laying out the sordid details of Pope's electioneering case that came before the State Board of Elections. In a display of stunning incompetence, the Board dismissed the complaint against Pope, and left the dirty old Puppetmaster feeling vindicated.
To celebrate his victory and try to clean up his shady reputation, the Puppetmaster responded to Geary's article in this letter to the editor:
In your July 19 article, "Can a Pope sin?," you asked about my company's support for the Republican Legislative Majority's issue advocacy: "Would any of this be illegal? We shall see." But no, your readers will not see, at least not in the politically correct Independent, where news that does not fit the left-wing progressive party line, such as the vindication that RLM fully complied with the law, simply does not get printed.
There is only silence from the Independent after your big build-up in the July 19 article, followed by the Aug. 16 cover story, "The vanishing voter: The real elections scandal isn't Jim Black (or Art Pope)," with the sidebar "Art Pope's purge." The State Board of Elections answered your questions, with a 5-0 decision that Variety and RLM did not coordinate with any candidates; by a 5-0 decision that none of the mailers were "electioneering communications"; and a 4-1 decision that none of the mailers were "express advocacy" to support or defeat a candidate for office.
In short, your question has been answered: There was nothing illegal. But since the answer did not fit your party line, you never reported it in print, on your Web site or on your blog.
You were dismissive about my complaint that your July 19 article was erroneous and biased, when it stated, "Possible fines if Pope's found guilty of election law violations?" when even Richard Morgan had not accused me of any election law violations. Now, the bias in what you omit to print is even more blatant.
While conservatives and I are your target, your bias hurts the efforts for broad-based, left-right coalitions for open and good government . . .
Anytime a right-wing ideologue says something might "hurt efforts for broad-based, left-right coalitions for open and good government" you can tune up your bullshit meter and turn on the laughing gas, but when the ideologue in question is Art Pope, you can also drop your damn teeth. I've never heard of a person less interested in good government than the Puppetmaster - but I have to give him credit for balls. Some guys can lie like a rug and not even flinch.
Naturally, Geary couldn't resist responding to Pope's letter, which he did last week in this story on September 20.
But for the record, Pope did win, flat out. Once again, the First Amendment was held to guarantee that rich and poor alike can spend unlimited sums of money communicating their political views. This "free speech" right extends not just to people but to corporations, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is why Variety Wholesalers Inc., the chain of 500 stores owned by the Pope family, is allowed to contribute unlimited sums to nonprofit "527" groups like "Republican Legislative Majority," Art Pope's creation, and why RLM is allowed to carpet-bomb Republican primaries with as much political literature as it can afford.
As it happens, I agree with Pope. That is what the First Amendment is for. I also agree with the Charlotte Observer, which says the law is "whacko" for not treating the RLM ads as "express advocacy" of Morgan's defeat, but so what if it did? Why shouldn't Pope be allowed to do that, too? When billionaire George Soros was "advocating" George Bush's defeat in 2004 via America Coming Together, another so-called "527" group, we all said hurray.
Morgan attempted to show that Pope coordinated his efforts--RLM's efforts, that is--with the candidates running against him and his moderate Republican allies in the House. But such coordination, absent a tape recording of the conspirators in action, would be tough to prove, and Pope's too smart to do that, anyway.
Anyway, the Board of Elections found Pope innocent on all counts. All I have to add is that if this doesn't show why public campaign financing is needed, to give ordinary folks some clout vis-à-vis the millionaires, I don't know what does.
Unfortunately, this is where Bob misses a critical point. He reports that corporations have the right of free speech, which they do, but - and this is a very important but - they are not permitted to exercise that free speech by funneling corporate money through 527 organizations. In other words, the Puppetmaster can say whatever he wants whenever he wants - except when he's saying it with contributions delivered directly from his business ventures into a 527 group, in this case, RLM.
I know this sounds like technical mumbo jumbo, but it's important. Especially when a writer tries to draw comparisons between the Puppetmaster's illegal electioneering and the work that George Soros does with his personal money.
What's the difference? Well, taxes, for one thing. To my knowledge, a dollar funneled into a 527 from a corporation has not been diluted by personal income tax. For example, if you give a dollar from your wallet to interfere in elections, you've already paid taxes on that dollar. Wouldn't you rather give pre-tax money instead? I don't know what the Puppetmaster's personal tax rate is, but it's safe to say that $500,000 in corporate contributions would have cost him $750,000 or so in personal dollars. (Click on image for an up-close view of the sleaze.)
Geary actually got to the right conclusion about the need for an alternative approach to campaign finance, but he gave the Puppetmaster a pass on the most critical issue in the SBOE complaint. Not that anyone beyond a few PopeWatchers gives a damn anymore. The cows are out of the barn, and North Carolina legislative races promise to be one hell of a shit storm.
To my knowledge.