Under the Dome

Dome: Group says Art Pope played role in killing public judicial race funds

From Staff ReportsJune 13, 2013 

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, 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, says 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 to keep the program.

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.

When asked Thursday 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.

39 bills become law

Gov. Pat McCrory signed 39 bills on Wednesday.

His office is highlighting House Bill 903, which transfers credits from community college to the UNC system; House Bill 146, which requires the state Board of Education to teach cursive writing and memorizing multiplication tables; and Senate Bill 129, which prohibits issuance of a certain kind of debt.

Bill sponsors joined the governor for the signings.

Bill loosens firearms laws

A bill measure adding more places people can carry or store concealed firearms in North Carolina and repealing a requirement to get a license to buy a handgun has passed the North Carolina Senate.

The Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a bill that lets people tote concealed firearms to more public places. It also allows people to buy a handgun without a permit from a sheriff – although they will still have to pass a federal background check if they buy the gun from a licensed dealer. It also adds new safeguards and toughens penalties. The bill now goes back to the House for concurrence.

Staff writers Rob Christensen and Mary Cornatzer

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