Conservative benefactor Art Pope stepping down as North Carolina’s budget chief

August 6, 2014

Art Pope, budget director for North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, during an interview in his office in Raleigh, N.C., in June. (Photo by Ted Richardson/For The Washington Post)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Art Pope, a prominent financier of conservative think tanks who served as North Carolina’s state budget director for the last 19 months, is stepping down from his post at the end of the summer.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory announced Wednesday that Pope was leaving to resume his work in the private sector. He is the chief executive of Variety Wholesalers, a private retail company that operates hundreds of discount stores across the southeast. Pope had stepped back from his daily duties when McCrory tapped him in January 2013 to join his administration, a job for which he was paid $1 a year.

“Art Pope has been an invaluable public servant for the people of North Carolina,” McCrory said in a statement Wednesday. “His knowledge and leadership helped produce historic tax reform while producing two balanced budgets that put North Carolina back on the road to prosperity. He has dedicated much of his life to the betterment of North Carolina, and it has been a privilege to have him at my side.”

As state budget director, Pope played a singular role in North Carolina — as the architect of a network of conservative advocacy groups who was working inside a Republican-led government that he had helped remake.

His wide-ranging influence has made him a politically charged figure in the state. Democrats argued that Pope has used his post to promote his personal politics. Pope and his allies rejected that, saying his work in government was just another chapter in a career of public service. He previously served for four terms as a state legislator.

Pope’s resignation was not completely unexpected. He had originally told McCrory he would serve one year as budget director, and friends believed he was eager to take up the reins again at Variety Wholesalers, a family business that his father transformed into a multimillion-dollar enterprise. Leaving government also frees Pope to resume his involvement with Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group he helped lead as board chairman, as well as to play a role in the 2016 presidential contest.

His departure comes on the heels of a drawn-out and fractious budget session in North Carolina, which became bogged down in intra-party disputes between the conservatives leading the state Senate and McCrory and his allies in the House.

On Wednesday, Senate Leader Phil Berger offered praise for Pope’s work as budget director, calling it “one of the most difficult and thankless jobs in state government.”

“Thanks to his countless volunteer hours, our state is moving in a far more fiscally sound and sustainable direction,” Berger added in a statement.

McCrory named a Lee H. Roberts, a Raleigh banker who sits on the North Carolina Banking Commission and is the son of journalists Cokie and Steve Roberts, to succeed Pope.

Related:

GRAPHIC: Art Pope’s influence on North Carolina

Matea Gold is a national political reporter for The Washington Post, covering money and influence.
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