Spin Control

Charter school fans spent $2 million for signatures

OLYMPIA -- Supporters of a ballot measure to put charter schools on the Washington ballot for the fourth time paid more than $2 million to an out-of-state firm to gather the signatures that virtually assure them of a vote.

Reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission show the campaign for Initiative 1240 paid about $2.1 million to PCI Consultants Inc. of Calabasas, Calif. A spokeswoman for the campaign had refused to reveal the amount spent on signature-gathering, or the company that received it, when supporters turned in signatures last Friday.

That expenditure allowed I-1240 to gather about 350,000 signatures, almost 110,000 more  than the minimum required to qualify for the ballot, in a little more than three weeks. That's far more than the cushion recommended by the Secretary of State's office, and makes certification all but certain.

PCI has a long track record of gathering signatures for ballot measures in Washington, receiving a total of more than $8.3 million over the last seven years, campaign disclosulre records show. It was paid to gather signatures last year for I-502, the marijuana legalization proposal on this year's ballot, as well as for an initiative that required more training for home health care workers and one that would require more humane treatment of farm animals. In 2010, it was paid to gather signatures for a proposal to impose an income tax on upper income residents and for one of two plans to end state control of liquor sales.

All but the farm animal initiative reached the ballot. But of the three that went before voters in the last two general elections, only I-1163, the home health care worker proposal, passed.

The $2.1 million may represent a record expense for signatures to get an initiative on the Washington ballot. PDC records show it far exceeds any previous payment to PCI from a client and also outstrips the reported costs of gathering signatures for last year's liquor sales initiative, about $1.12 million.

The signature campaign for the charter schools initiative was bankrolled by some of the big names in Washington's high tech industry, including $1 million from Bill Gates, $100,000 from Paul Allen and $450,000 from members of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's family.

I-1240 would allow the school districts or nonprofits to open as many as 40 charter schools over five years, which would be held to the same teacher certification and performance requirements as standard public schoos, but exempt from some laws and district policies. The per-pupil allotment from the state would bo to the charter school.




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Jim Camden
Jim Camden is the Olympia bureau chief, covering the Legislature and state government. He also is a political columnist and blogger for Spin Control.

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