The campaign to bring charter schools to Washington state has now raised more cash than any other measure on the ballot. Donors have contributed more than $8.9 million to the Yes on 1240 campaign. Of that, 91 percent came from just ten people, according to the Public Disclosure Commission website.
Of all of the money raised for the charter school initiative, just one-half of 1 percent came from donations of less than $10,000.
Although wealthy donors pour millions into Washington state ballot measures each election season, what's unusual about the charter school campaign is that it depends almost entirely on big-money contributions from donors with no obvious financial interest in the outcome. Bill Gates contributed $3 million, one-third of the overall campaign donations. Millions more came from Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, and Mike and Jackie Bezos, the parents of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.
The ballot measure campaign that's raised nearly as much cash as I-1240 is the Referendum 74 campaign to legalize same-sex marriage, which has received donations of $8.6 million (source: Public Disclosure Commission). But while Washington United for Marriage has received money from more than 14,000 donors, only 158 donors have given to the charter school campaign. That's about the same number of donors to the two campaigns against charter schools, No on 1240 and People for Our Public Schools. But according to the Public Disclosure Commission, those campaigns have raised a collective $297,744, or just 3 percent as much money as the Yes on 1240 campaign.
Teachers' union officials say they're only giving small amounts to prevent charter schools from coming to Washington. They're focusing campaign contributions on the governor's race. Union officials say when it comes to the big money behind the charter school initiative, they just can't compete.