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Pierce County contributors largely silent on charter schools initiative

Post by Leon Gonion / The News Tribune on Oct. 9, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
October 9, 2012 9:52 pm

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of blog articles by University of Washington Tacoma students interning with The News Tribune. They are taking a closer look at campaign finance in the current election cycle.

Pierce County residents appear to be neither supporting nor opposing charter schools — at least, not with their dollars.  Of the more than $8.5 million raised so far by both sides of I-1240, the ballot initiative to establish up to 40 charter schools in Washington state, Pierce County residents have chipped in a grand total of:  $1010.

It’s a pattern that matches historical trends — in previous rounds of charter school ballot measures, Pierce County has remained largely out of the fray.

This year, aided by large contributions from donors with deep pockets like Bill Gates ($3 million), Alice Walton of the Wal-Mart family ($1.1 million), and Mike and Jackie Bezos ($1 million), proponents of I-1240 are outraising the opposition by nearly a 30-to-1 margin:

Yes on 1240 has raised a grand total of nearly $8.2 million to date, including $2.7 million in out of state contributions; while People for Our Public Schools and No on 1240 have raised a combined total of $276,595.13, with a large chunk — $150,000 — coming from the Washington Education Association (WEA).

As reported by Peter Callaghan earlier this summer, Yes on 1240 began their fundraising efforts in early June, quickly raising — and almost as quickly spending — more than $3 million to collect 350,000 signatures in less than three weeks to get the measure on November’s ballot.

Opponents of charter schools have been outspent before.  In 2000, Initiative 729 failed at the ballot box, despite a staggering fundraising disparity of $3.4 million in support to a mere $386 opposed.  (Teacher pay and class size initiatives were also on the ballot that year, and getting more attention from traditional charter school opponents.)  And in 2004, after the Legislature passed a charter school bill, voters rejected the referendum to approve it, R-55, despite the fact that sponsors outspent opponents by a three-to-one margin ($3.8 million to $1.3 million).

In neither instance did Pierce County residents play a significant fundraising role:  In 2000, no Pierce County contributions were made in support of either side of I-729; in 2004, however, 44 residents contributed a total of $2,605.00 to reject R-55, while a single Gig Harbor individual, George F. Russell Jr., donated $20,000 to support it.

Read the full text of I-1240 here.

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