RALEIGH — Two of the Triangle's most prominent businessmen are backing opposite sides for determining which candidates for the Wake County Board of Commissioners will be elected to help control the purse strings of the state's largest school system.
Campaign finance reports due this week show that Variety Wholesalers CEO Art Pope and his family have given at least $32,000 to Republican candidates for commissioner. Campaign reports also show that Capitol Broadcasting CEO Jim Goodmon and his wife have given at least $13,000 to Democratic candidates for commissioner.
"It's a contributor referendum on the school board," said Democratic candidate Jack Nichols.
Candidates for commissioner had to drop off their reports, the final one before next week's elections, by Monday or stick it in the mail. Reports for three of the eight candidates weren't at the Wake County Board of Elections as of Monday afternoon.
The reports that are in show how a number of figures associated with the Wake County school board's fight over student assignment are also involved in the battle to elect commissioners.
Pope didn't give any money to the four winning school board candidates last year. But he gave $15,015 to the Wake County Republican Party. Party officials gave much of their money to help elect the new school board members, who went on to dismantle the school system's diversity-based student assignment policy.
Pope also created and partially funds several local conservative groups that have supported the school board's elimination of the diversity policy.
When asked about this year's donations, Pope noted that he's had a long track record of supporting Republican candidates.
Pope and his family gave $16,000 to GOP Commissioner Joe Bryan and an identical amount to fellow Republican Commissioner Tony Gurley. Pope said he also gave $4,000 to Republican Commissioner Paul Coble, whose report wasn't available Monday.
"I don't think it's shocking for Republicans to support Republican candidates," Pope said.
Goodmon, who could not be reached for comment Monday, has become increasingly vocal in his opposition to the changes taking place in the school system. He gave $750 last year to losing school board candidates, chairs the board of a foundation that funds liberal groups critical of the elimination of the diversity policy and earlier this month accused the board of engaging in poor governance practices.
Goodmon, registered as an unaffiliated voter, has given $4,000 to both Nichols and Democratic candidate Steve Rao. He gave $1,000 to Democratic candidate Don Mial. Goodmon's wife gave $4,000 to Nichols.
"Jim Goodmon has stepped up big time," said Nichols, who is challenging Coble.
In addition to the Goodmons, the Democratic candidates have received money from several critics of the new school board.
But Bryan pointed out he's also received financial support from those opposed to the elimination of the diversity policy.
In addition to money from the Pope family, Bryan and Gurley have each received more than $10,000 from businessmen and political action groups associated with the real estate and building industries. Gurley said that shouldn't be interpreted as them trying to influence his votes.
"Whatever someone contributes doesn't have an impact on my beliefs," Gurley said. "They know what my beliefs are. A contribution is a recognition of what I've shown in the past."
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