The Civitas Institute (formerly the John William Pope Civitas Institute) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit right-wing pressure group based in North Carolina and launched in 2005 to "facilitate the implementation of conservative policy solutions." It calls itself a "think tank." It gets most of its funding from North Carolina businessman and politician Art Pope (John William Pope's son). A 2010 Facing South comparison of the tax records filed by the Civitas Institute and the John Williams Pope Foundation -- which Art Pope chairs -- reveals that Pope's backing has constituted more than 99 percent of all the grants, donations and gifts that Civitas has received between 2005 and 2009. Civitas Action is its 501(c)(4) sister organization, in which Pope is also a founding member. According to its website, Civitas' vision is "of a North Carolina whose citizens enjoy liberty and prosperity derived from limited government, personal responsibility and civic engagement. The Civitas Institute is a member of the State Policy Network (SPN).
News and Controversies
Alex Kotch and the ExposedByCMD Editors discuss Civitas and Civitas Action’s recent efforts to impact voter suppression and the dissemination of news in their article, "Bradley Foundation Bankrolls Chairman Art Pope’s Extreme Agenda In North Carolina.” The Civitas “think tank” and its nonprofit sister agency, Civitas Action, have used funds from Art Pope’s Variety Stores, the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, and the State Policy Network to influence state elections and voter ID laws. 
Civitas has focused their legislative reform efforts on voter fraud. For example, in 2013, Civitas supported an elections omnibus bill passed by Republican state legislators that advocated for, “strict voter ID, a shortened early voting period and the elimination of same-day registration and high school pre-registration.” In 2016, the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the law, and in May 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal to the lower court’s ruling. Also in 2016, Civitas filed two separate lawsuits challenging same-day voter registration in North Carolina.
Campaigning for Climate Skeptics
In October 2010, Civitas Action spent $5,750 on mailers targeting North Carolina House Speaker Joe Hackney and Senate leader Marc Basnight, Democrats who have been supportive of efforts to address global warming. Hackney led the state's climate change commission for a time before appointing in his place Rep. Pricey Harrison (D), one of the legislature's strongest environmental advocates. Basnight has talked about his concern that global warming and associated sea rise could inundate the region and supports a move to clean energy sources. Frances De Luca, president of the Civitas Institute and the former state director of the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity, has said more mailers are planned.
Running against 15-term Hackney is Cathy Wright, a nursing instructor who's also worked as a lobbyist for medical groups. Her campaign manager did not respond to Facing South's request for information about her position on climate change. But Wright does say she's a member of the Conservative Womens Forum, which promotes a book calling global warming a "scam" and is critical of clean energy solutions from cap-and trade legislation to wind power to the promotion of compact-fluorescent light bulbs. Additionally, her campaign website links directly to both the John Locke Foundation and the Civitas Institute. Basnight's opponent is Hood Richardson, a retired minerals geologist and commissioner for Beaufort County, N.C. Richardson calls global warming a "problem that has since been debunked as based on faulty science." He also criticizes Basnight for helping create the state climate change commission, saying it will "severely harm businesses." He cites the John Locke Foundation for his assertions.
Civitas Action, the Civitas Institute's 501(c)(4) sister group that ran attack ads against 2010 Democratic state legislators that supported renewable energy. Art Pope is a founding board member of Civitas Action. According to State Board of Elections records, 72 percent of the money Civitas Action raised for the ads comes from Variety Wholesalers, the retail company Pope owns. The rest came from Americans for Prosperity, where Pope was a director and a leading donor.
Ties to the Bradley Foundation
Bradley detailed the most recent grants in internal documents examined by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). Below are the descriptions prepared by CMD. The quoted text was written by Bradley staff.
The Bradley Foundation provided Civitas (shared with the John Locke Foundation with $1.5 million to create a communications infrastructure to disseminate the ideas of its right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups. This effort includes, “radio, online content aggregation, mobile applications, and an AP-style news service for local newspapers,” according to Bradley documents. For example, it’s website “Mapping the Left” has created an online database of activists and North Carolina liberals. According to its website, "The Mapping the Left (MTL) project combines data, research and news articles to show the magnitude of the radical Left’s infrastructure in North Carolina. For decades, the liberal/progressive movement has mostly been invisible to the general public. Hiding from the “liberal” label, the well-organized progressive movement has built a network of groups that work together to push an extreme, liberal/progressive agenda that the media has failed to report upon."  MTL also served to "track the connections between progressive organizations in North Carolina." 
2016: $50,000 to support the Center for Law and Freedom.
2015: $160,000 to support a litigation center and general operations. “Following the model of existing state based litigation centers and helped by the Goldwater Institute’s Bradley supported state litigation alliance, Civitas is creating an in house center to be led by an experienced attorney who will lead the execution of a comprehensive legal strategy to complement the work done by it and its allies in the state.”
2014: $160,000 to support general operations and a litigation center. “Civitas has been one of the biggest parts of one the most successful such infrastructures in the United States during the past decade and especially during the last year and a half.” Its president is the former director of AFP NC. In 2014 Civitas focused on “fiscal policy, education policy, holding government accountable and challenging the narratives of the Left.”
In 2017, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publishers of SourceWatch, launched a series of articles on the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, exposing the inner-workings of one of America's largest right-wing foundations. 56,000 previously undisclosed documents laid bare the Bradley Foundation's highly politicized agenda. CMD detailed Bradley's efforts to map and measure right wing infrastructure nationwide, including by dismantling and defunding unions to impact state elections; bankrolling discredited spin doctor Richard Berman and his many front groups; and more.
Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council
The Civitas Institute has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), both through SPN and directly. An August 2013 ALEC board document obtained by The Guardian lists the Civitas Institute as a former member of the Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which was shuttered in April 2012 after the death of Trayvon Martin, and lists it as intending "to change membership to Education," namely ALEC's Education Task Force.
See SPN Ties to ALEC for more.
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our PRWatch.org site.
Ties to the State Policy Network
Civitas Institute is a member of the State Policy Network (SPN). It has also received funding from SPN. (See below.) SPN is a web of right-wing “think tanks” and tax-exempt organizations in 50 states, Washington, D.C., Canada, and the United Kingdom. As of October 2019, SPN's membership totals 162. Today's SPN is the tip of the spear of far-right, nationally funded policy agenda in the states that undergirds extremists in the Republican Party. SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told the Wall Street Journal in 2017 that the revenue of the combined groups was some $80 million, but a 2019 analysis of SPN's main members IRS filings by the Center for Media and Democracy shows that the combined revenue is over $120 million. Although SPN's member organizations claim to be nonpartisan and independent, the Center for Media and Democracy's in-depth investigation, "EXPOSED: The State Policy Network -- The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government," reveals that SPN and its member think tanks are major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.
In response to CMD's report, SPN Executive Director Tracie Sharp told national and statehouse reporters that SPN affiliates are "fiercely independent." Later the same week, however, The New Yorker's Jane Mayer caught Sharp in a contradiction. In her article, "Is IKEA the New Model for the Conservative Movement?," the Pulitzer-nominated reporter revealed that, in a recent meeting behind closed doors with the heads of SPN affiliates around the country, Sharp "compared the organization’s model to that of the giant global chain IKEA." She reportedly said that SPN "would provide 'the raw materials,' along with the 'services' needed to assemble the products. Rather than acting like passive customers who buy finished products, she wanted each state group to show the enterprise and creativity needed to assemble the parts in their home states. 'Pick what you need,' she said, 'and customize it for what works best for you.'" Not only that, but Sharp "also acknowledged privately to the members that the organization's often anonymous donors frequently shape the agenda. 'The grants are driven by donor intent,' she told the gathered think-tank heads. She added that, often, 'the donors have a very specific idea of what they want to happen.'"
A set of coordinated fundraising proposals obtained and released by The Guardian in early December 2013 confirm many of these SPN members' intent to change state laws and policies, referring to "advancing model legislation" and "candidate briefings." These activities "arguably cross the line into lobbying," The Guardian notes.
Civitas' near-total reliance on funding from Art Pope makes it a "private foundation" in the eyes of the IRS, a classification reserved for nonprofits that depend on a sole benefactor. Nationally, the majority of 501(c)(3) nonprofits are public charities; only six percent are private foundations. Pope used to also sit on the group's board of directors.
Due to Civitas Institute being a private foundation, it must disclose its contributors to the IRS. Here they are as listed in IRS filings.
- John William Pope Foundation: $1,131,000
- Donors Capital Fund - $20,250
- RAI Services Company - $5,000
- Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation - $550,000
- State Policy Network - $44,000
- Luddy Charitable Foundation - $100,000
- Roe Foundation - $20,000
- Americans for Prosperity - $10,000
- Wanderwoude Family Foundation - $10,000
- Time Warner Cable - $5,000
- Jarrett Bay Boatworks - $7,500
- Mr. and Mrs. Mark Cantin - $10,000
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina - $20,000
- James Anthony - $29,650
- Mr. and Mrs. Baker Mitchell - $5,000
- Theodore Hicks - $5,000
- Keystone Corporation - $10,000
- Nai Carolantic Realty - $5,000
- Duke Energy - $5,000
- Alexandra Henson - $12,000
- Jay Stobbs - $6,848
- John William Pope Foundation: $1,080,000
- Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation: $160,000
- State Policy Network: $10,000
- JM Foundation: $40,000
- Robert L. Luddy: $100,000
- Roe Foundation: $20,000
- Time Warner Cable: $5,000
- Mr. and Mrs. Mark Cantin: $60,000
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina: $25,000
- Anthony and Co. DBA Colliers Int'l: $15,000
- Education Freedom Alliance: $15,000
- Garland Tucker: $12,488
- The Roger Bacon Academy, Inc: $20,000
- Drs Rosemary and David Stein: $7,500
- Americans for Prosperity Foundation: $6,500
- National Draft Ben Carson: $5,000
- C. Theodore Hicks: $5,000
- Coca Cola Bottling Co Consolidate: $5,000
- J. Patrick Gavaghan: $5,000
- Carolantic Reality: $5,000
- Mr. and Mrs. Howard Shultz: $5,000
Filing as a private foundation:
- Total Revenue: $2,496,320
- Total Expenses: $2,189,784
- Net Assets: $742,163
- Total Revenue: $1,906,327
- Total Expenses: $2,091,529
- Net Assets: $510,034
- Total Revenue: $1,703,881
- Total Expenses: $1,537,092
- Net Assets: $599,759
- Total Revenue: $1,861,191
- Total Expenses: $1,722,789
- Net Assets: $428,905
- Total Revenue: $1,583,410
- Total Expenses: $1,489,622
- Net Assets: $290,503
- Total Revenue: $1,384,584
- Total Expenses: $1,599,000
- Net Assets: $196,715
- Total Revenue: $1,384,584
- Total Expenses: $1,599,000
- Net Assets: $255,763
- Total Revenue: $1,066,592
- Total Expenses: $1,551,161
- Net Assets: $457,628
As of September 2018:
- Donald Bryson, President and CEO
- Brian Balfour, Executive Vice President
- Bob Luebke, Director of Policy
- Brooke Medina, Communications Director
- Ray Nothstine, Editor
- Carrie Leggins, Development and Operations Manager
- Leah Byers, Policy Analyst
- Dr. Robert Luebke, Senior Policy Analyst
- Jim Tynen, Director of communications
- Francis X. De Luca, President (former director of the North Carolina branch of Americans for Prosperity)
- Susan Myrick, Elections Analyst
- Alexander Guin, Director of Development
- Bill Gilbert, Director of Technology and Outreach
- Cameron Harwick, Web Development and Media
- Angela Height, Policy Analyst
- Rhett Forman, Outreach and Development Assistant
Board of Directors
As of January 2016:
- Francis X. De Luca, President
- Brian Balfour, Treasurer
- Robert Luddy
- Jim Anthony
- Howard Schultz
- Garland Tucker III
Employer Identification Number (EIN): 20-2454741
805 Spring Forest Rd., Ste 100
Raleigh, NC 27609
Articles and Resources
Related SourceWatch Articles
- Americans for Prosperity
- Art Pope
- John Locke Foundation
- Patients First
- State Policy Network:
- American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
- Donors Capital Fund
- Koch Family Foundations
- Koch Industries
- Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity
- Heritage Foundation
- Think tanks
- Whitney Ball
- Adam Meyerson
- Bridgett Wagner
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