WRAL: Two foundations fund the battle of ideas in N.C.

WRAL.com’s Mark Binker has a lengthy piece discussing nonprofits in North Carolina that contribute ideas to the public policy debate. Binker highlights the Pope Foundation as the principal funding source for right-of-center groups and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation as the principal source for left-of-center groups.

He writes:

Roughly a dozen groups make up the core of Raleigh’s intellectual industrial complex, with a dozen others playing a larger or smaller role as specific issues arise. Although there are exceptions, the most frequently quoted and cited of these groups break down into two families, each with ties to one of two foundations that helps to fund their activities.

The Justice Center, Action NC, Progress North Carolina, Planned Parenthood and many other left-of-center groups can trace some part of their funding back to the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a Winston-Salem based philanthropy founded as a memorial to the son of a tobacco magnate.

A handful of other funders also help bankroll liberal-leaning organizations. Among them is the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, named for the man who founded WRAL-TV and the foundation. His grandson, Jim Goodmon, is both president of WRAL parent Capitol Broadcasting Company and chairman of the foundation’s board.

However, despite the influence of A.J. Fletcher Foundation and other funders, Z. Smith Reynolds appears to provide the broadest common denominator for Raleigh’s family of liberal groups.

On the Pope Foundation, Binker writes:

The other family, of more conservative public policy groups, is tied together by the John William Pope Foundation. As with the liberal side of the equation, there are other big donors who work with a similar subset of groups to Pope, including businessman Bob [Luddy] and the E.A. Morris Charitable Foundation, but Pope retains the broadest reach.

Art Pope, son of the foundation’s namesake and McCrory’s budget director, is chairman of the foundation. Its allied groups have been much reviled by groups on the political left for years. Much as conservatives say Z Smith Reynolds is funding a network that attacks their political leadership, the Pope foundation is seen as one of the bigger cogs in the Republican message machine.

Over the years, Pope has dismissed that criticism. A summary of the foundation’s mission says that it supports a network of organizations in North Carolina that “advocate for free markets, limited government, individual responsibility and government transparency.”

The foundation also supports national groups, including the Heartland Institute, which regularly offers policy experts to reporters covering government stories, and the Federalist Society, a network of conservative lawyers whose North Carolina chapters hold judicial candidate and issue forums.

“Generally, there isn’t a requirement that a national public policy group be involved in North Carolina,” said Dave Riggs, vice president of operations and programs at the Pope Foundation. “However, we often support national public policy groups that can provide education resources within the state.”

Riggs, who answered questions via email, did not shy away from the fact that many of the Pope-funded groups are explicitly seen as politically conservative or libertarian.

“For the public policy groups that we support, yes, those labels are fair,” he said. “We unapologetically support many conservative and libertarian public policy nonprofits, as well as other groups that don’t have an explicit right or left philosophical basis to their education effort.”

WRAL.com also has a database of profiles on public-policy nonprofits funded by either the Pope or Reynolds foundations.