Former legislator, millionaire, political insider, Art Pope is a public figure and one of the most powerful people in North Carolina.

This project of the Independent Weekly and Facing South, the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies, analyzes both the extent of Pope’s influence and its ramifications for public policy.

In short, Pope and the organizations he finances are shaping how North Carolinians live. As Chris Kromm reports, the Pope familythrough the John William Pope Foundationhas been funneling millions of dollars into a network of conservative research, media and legal centers. Pope’s groups have larger ambitions to shift public opinion and the political debate toward a pro-business, anti-government agenda.

That’s being played out in the Republican-dominated Legislature. Those lawmakers and their regressive agenda for social services, education, the environment and tax policy are brought to you largely by Pope and Pope-backed groups.

We’ve also scrutinized the Pope Foundation’s tax documents and found that, despite his groups’ persistent calls for public accountability, the foundation itself failed to file timely tax returns for eight years. Pope’s excuses? Hurricane Fran. Single fatherhood. For eight years.

And finally, the media’s job is to monitor power, regardless of who holds it, and to speak truth to it. As the Indy‘s analysis of a year’s worth of opinion columns reveals, The News & Observer‘s op-ed pages do not forcefully challenge or monitor Pope-backed groups.

When our reporters spoke with Pope and his representatives, they asked why we were doing these stories now. The answer is simple: When money and power is concentrated in one empire, as they are with Pope and his groups, that influence not only merits but demands an examination. Lisa Sorg