OLYMPIA – “Please send as generous a donation as you can possibly afford. … Now is the perfect time to send in the contribution you’ve been meaning to send. … There is no limit on how much you may contribute.”
Washingtonians have this year poured nearly $18 million – the second highest amount ever – into political campaigns that have no candidate, only an idea.
Each is a ballot measure, letting voters themselves make or veto laws. The process end-runs the Legislature and governor, the people who normally make laws.
But gathering signatures and swaying voters is expensive work. As of Thursday, backers and foes of this year’s ballot measures had raised more money than all the candidates for governor, attorney general and secretary of state.
Most of that cash comes from Seattle or big-money out-of-state political players, like the charter-schools fans backing Referendum 55. But dozens of donors from Spokane to Usk to Pullman have written hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks for or against this year’s ballot measures.
Based on a Spokesman-Review analysis of state campaign-finance data, here’s who’s contributing to what:
Referendum 55: Would allow charter schools in Washington.
About 40 other states already allow these schools, which are publicly funded but independent of many school regulations.
Charter school supporters include Spokane community activist Hummingbird St. Peter ($100). Big-money supporters include Wal-Mart heir John T. Walton ($1 million), Microsoft’s Bill Gates ($1 million), Gap Inc. board member Donald G. Fisher ($925,000), Netflix founder Reed Hastings ($190,000) and AIG Retirement Services’ CEO Eli Broad ($200,000).
“If we’ve been so effective in public education, why do we have the dropout rate we do?” said St. Peter. “This is about choice. It’s not about the union and the school system. It’s about families having a choice where they’d like to place their students.”
Charter school opponents include the Spokane Education Association ($2,000), SEA president Maureen Ramos ($100), and several local teachers. Big-money opponents: the National Education Association ($500,000), Washington Education Association ($400,000) and the American Federation of Teachers ($55,000).
“I know they (charter schools) will draw away dollars from public schools. Will they also draw away involved parents?” said Lorna Jeanneret, a Spokane elementary school counselor who contributed $50. “The parents that would want to access a charter school already are very concerned about their kids. In a high-needs school, we need those parents.”
Initiative 892: Would allow non-tribal businesses to have the same slot-style gambling machines that the state now allows only at tribal casinos.
The state would take a 35 percent cut of the profits from the thousands of new machines, and use the money to reduce property taxes.
Supporters include Liberty Lake’s BEVL Inc. ($5,000), Spokane Valley’s Players and Spectators card room ($2,500), Pullman’s Mr. Z’s Casino ($1,000), Spokane’s Swinging Doors sports bar ($1,000). Big-money supporters: Auburn’s Freddies Associates ($50,000) and Great American Gaming Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of a Canadian gambling firm based in Richmond, British Columbia ($25,000).
“We’re just looking to level the playing field a little bit,” said Denny Leliefeld, owner of Deer Park bar and restaurant Shagnasty’s, which donated $100. “The tribal casinos basically have a monopoly.”
Opponents include Usk’s Kalispel Tribe of Indians, which runs a growing casino in Airway Heights ($250,000). Other big-money opponents: the Puyallup Tribe ($1.5 million), Muckleshoot Tribe ($900,000) and Tulalip Tribes ($350,000). Efforts to reach a Kalispel tribal official for comment were unsuccessful.
Initiative 884: Would add a penny to the state sales tax, with the resulting $1 billion a year spent on early childhood education, K-12 schools and the state’s colleges and universities.
Supporters include lots of local school and university officials. Among them: WSU president Lane Rawlins and his wife ($5,200), WSU’s Karl Boehmke ($750), Eastern Washington University president Steve Jordan and his wife ($500), Spokane Community College Chancellor Gary Livingston ($500) and the Spokane Principals’ Association ($250). Big-money supporters include Seattle investors Nicolas Hanauer ($815,000) and Eric Dillon ($100,000) and Microsoft ($200,000).
“I had a little trepidation (over backing a sales-tax increase),” said Spokane auto dealer and WSU regent Chris Marr, who contributed $5,500. “But what’s going to drive our economy in the future? Higher education and health care.”
Opponents include Colfax’s Lawrence Hickman ($50) and Spokane’s Edwin Weilep ($50). The closest thing to a big-money opponent is the anti-tax group Citizens for a Sound Economy, which has donated $8,000 in cash and about $25,000 in services.
“I think we should be reducing sales taxes, not increasing them,” said Gonzaga University economics professor John Beck ($50). He said he’s troubled that the poor, through a high sales tax, would be forced to subsidize students who will likely advance to higher income brackets upon graduation.
Initiative 872: Would replace Washington’s new partisan primary election with a system in which the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, would face off in November.
Supporters include Spokane’s Blake and Joan McKinley ($100), Gray Investments LLC ($100) and Colville’s Dr. Ed Gray ($50). Big-money supporter: the Washington State Grange, which has contributed $100,000 in cash and nearly $200,000 in services.
“Having to declare a party in the primary was very hard for me,” said retired Spokane teacher Andrea Crisp, who donated $5. “I don’t think I should have to vote a straight party ticket.”
Opponents include the Stevens County Republican Central Committee ($400) and the state Democratic Central Committee, which has contributed more than $30,000 in cash and services.
Initiative 297: Would tighten the cleanup rules at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, including requiring the federal government to clean up existing contamination before adding more nuclear waste.
Supporters include Hanford watchdog group Heart of America Northwest, which has contributed about $550,000 in cash and thousands more in services. State campaign finance reports show no major opposition spending.