The Clergy of Climate Change Denial: Art Pope and the North Carolina Denial Machine

Read time: 4 mins

With the U.S. midterm elections days away, there is no shortage of last-minute efforts and big advertising dollars being spent on the campaign trail.  Prominent among those ‘campaigning’ are Big Oil and corporate interests, who are spending with reckless abandon after the recent Citizens United decision enabled unlimited spending to influence election results.  As the Center for American Progress Action Fund reported, nearly $70 million of that funding was directed towards efforts to halt clean energy legislation. 

Among the various polluting industries doling out big bucks is Big Oil who is bankrolling major efforts, along with their dubious sounding front groups, including Kochtopus funded groups. But the Kochs aren’t the only ones attacking prevailing climate science through shady front groups.  

According to an excellent investigation by the Institute for Southern Studies, there’s a denier in town that is giving the Kochs a run for their money.  Art Pope has finessed the art of bankrolling climate change denial in North Carolina.  Facing South’s research demonstrates that Pope has close ties to the Kochs as one of four national directors of the Koch-founded political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity.  He is also the second-largest institutional funder of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

Pope is a director and board chair of the William Pope Foundation, which has steered millions to conservative thinks tanks in North Carolina and nationally, a network working closely with the Kochtopus to manufacture doubt about global warming.

In North Carolina, the climate skeptics that benefit from Pope’s fortune haven’t gained much traction in the state legislature.  But that could change if Pope’s strategy pays off this election year: He has begun funneling money to ostensibly nonpartisan nonprofits that use it to run attack ads, and among the targeted politicians are two long-time legislative leaders who have played a key role in addressing climate change in the state.

Facing South’s analysis of tax return data finds that Art Pope’s family foundation has made very generous contributions to many of the same climate denier groups that are funded by Koch Industries including the Competitive Enterprise Institute.  In total, Pope has donated over $24.1 million in total, compared to Koch’s $48.5 million. 

The largest chunk of money that Pope contributed to the climate denial network went to the John Locke Foundation, a 501(c)(3) right wing think tank based in Raleigh, N.C. that was created in 1990 to promote limited government.  It’s got connections to the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute, among others.  And Pope is personally bankrolling 80 percent of the organization’s funding – to the tune of $16.9 million between 1997 and 2008.  Pope also also sits on its board of directors, which gives him considerable power in managing the organization’s operations and policies.

The John Locke Foundation has been one of the most outspoken voices of climate denial in North Carolina and beyond, working in concert with other groups funded by Koch and Pope to create the illusion of disagreement about the fundamentals of climate science. 

Currently, the JLF is fighting Senate Bill 3, passed in 2007, that made North Carolina adopt a minimum requirement for the use of renewable energy sources by investor-owned electric utilities.  The John Locke Foundation has been fighting tooth and nail to make sure that clean energy legislation doesn’t pass.  According to the group’s 2010 climate agenda, they plan to:

1. Abandon all state attempts to fight global warming.

2. Repeal already adopted legislation such as SB3, which is raising energy costs and reducing employment opportunities in the state, which is already suffering from one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Pope and his network of right-wing non-profits - let’s call it the Popetopus - are now funding efforts to attack Democrats who’ve been supportive of efforts to address global warming. Taking a page out of billionaires Charles and David Koch’s playbook, the Popetopus threatens to undermine science-based policymaking in North Carolina, and derail the state’s clean energy future. 

Get DeSmog News and Alerts