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Working for change, Part 2

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By Todd Cohen

Funding for the John W. Pope Foundation has come mainly from the Pope family and Variety Wholesalers, the family’s discount-retail business.

That business has grown to 500 stores in 14 southern states, mainly in its Rose’s, Maxway and Super 10 divisions, up from five stores when John W. Pope Sr. took over the business in 1949, says his son, Art Pope, vice chairman and president of Variety Wholesalers Inc. and of the foundation.

Family and company donations to the foundation totaled $3.8 million in the fiscal year ended last June 30. he says.

Accounting for grants, income of $9.2 million through the sale of investments and return on investments, and unrealized gain on its holdings, Pope says, the foundation’s assets grew to over $31.5 million in book value in fiscal 2005 from nearly $26.3 million a year earlier.

While the foundation reported to the IRS that the fair market value of its assets totaled $53.6 million, Pope says, those assets include some Variety Wholesalers stock that has not yet received an independent.

A trusted created in 1986 by his late brother, John W. Pope Jr., who died in March 2004, mandated that the stock be transferred to the foundation on his death, Pope says.

That stock is the focus several legal actions, he says, one filed in 2004 by Jane Turner Pope, the widow of John Pope Jr., the other filed last fall by the executor of his estate.

Pope Foundation grants in fiscal 2005 for public-policy work in North Carolina included, among others, nearly $1.7 million to the Locke Foundation; just over $402,000 to the Pope Center for Higher Education, which was spun off from the Locke Foundation in 2002; nearly $309,000 to the John W. Pope Civitas Institute, formed in 2005; and $274,000 to the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law, which the Pope Foundation helped form in 2004.

National policy groups receiving Pope support include, among others, the American Conservative Union Foundation, Americans for Tax Reform Foundation, Cato Institute, Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation.

The foundation’s support for education in fiscal 2005 ranged from $1 million for a new convocation center at Campbell University to grants to The Asheville School, Ravenscroft School, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Virginia Episcopal School.

Two proposals for funding that UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University submitted separately to the foundation in 2003 and 2004 have had quite different outcomes, Popes says.

UNC-Chapel Hill asked the foundation to fund an interdisciplinary program in western culture, and N.C. State asked it to fund an interdisciplinary program in “public-choice” law and economics.

The foundation gave UNC-CH $25,000 to develop a plan, which underwent several changes and would have cost roughly $650,000 to $750,000 a year for five years, followed by a Pope-funded endowment of roughly $35 million, Pope says.

But the UNC plan drew fire from faculty members and students who Pope says criticized him, his family and the foundation.

Faculty and student critics of the plan cited criticism of the university by the Pope Center for Higher Education, a separate entity, and voiced concerns that the Pope Foundation might have too great a hand in shaping the program and selecting faculty.

Emphasizing that the foundation has “no desire to approve or disapprove faculty to teach,” Pope says the foundation declined to support the university’s proposal because of the lack of faculty support, and because the school would not or could not identify which faculty would be involved in the program.

“Before we give money, we want some assurance a program is going to be successful,” Pope says. “No program is going to be successful unless it has the support of the faculty. And we want to see some faculty support.”

Now, based on its review of programs at other schools, the foundation may seek competitive proposals to fund a program in western civilization and great books from a number of schools, including UNC-Chapel Hill, Pope says.

In comparison to the outcome of the UNC proposal, the foundation funded the proposal by N.C. State for the program in law and economics.

The foundation committed $511,500 to the program and will decide in 2008 whether to renew its funding for another five years or create an endowment.

Part 1: Pope Foundation invests in charities, free-market advocacy.

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