At a press conference Thursday morning, Governor-elect Pat McCrory appointed millionaire, conservative activist Art Pope to be his deputy budget director--the governor's top aide on budget issues. Pope is an experienced legislator, but the appointment is likely to be a lightning rod.
Pope runs Variety Wholesalers, which owns discount stores like Roses, Super Dollar, Value Mart, and Maxway. He is also possibly the most influential Republican fundraiser in North Carolina. He is a director of the Americans for Prosperity Super PAC, and he contributes millions to conservative causes and candidates through the John W. Pope Foundation, which he also runs. That could put lawmakers Pope helped elect in a tough spot.
"This is someone who helped get a lot of folks now in the leadership and in the majority party elected," says Bob Phillips, the North Carolina director of Common Cause, a non-partisan campaign watchdog organization. "Are folks going to be able to do their job serving their constituents and properly scrutinizing the budget?"
A 2010 report by the liberal Institute of Southern Studies, found that more than 80 cents of every dollar to the state’s top conservative think tanks and advocacy groups came from Pope’s foundation. While he thinks the appointment will raise questions and incite some controversy, Phillips says he is not opposed to Pope's new role. He points out that Pope used to serve in the legislature, and says he has the right qualifications for the job.
"He definitely was one of the reasonable, thoughtful voices on budget matters—you know, this was back 20 years ago when he was in the General Assembly. So, he’s got credentials to probably do that job."
During the press conference, McCrory specifically noted that, in the 1990s, Pope helped create the state’s Rainy Day Fund, a cash reserve for emergency situations. McCrory also announced that by taking the job, Pope had agreed to take a leave of absence from all of his other jobs and board memberships, and he will work for McCrory as a volunteer.
At the press conference, McCrory also announced the appointments of three new cabinet members, among other top officials. Salisbury City Councilmember Susan Kluttz will take over the Department of Cultural Resources; former Chief Financial Officer of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lyons Gray, will run the Department of Revenue; and, former federal prosecutor and GOP fundraiser Kieran Shanahan will lead the Department of Public Safety.