Campaign Finance
8:43 am
Mon September 23, 2013

Washington Billionaires Staying Out Of State Politics This Year

Nine men and one woman from Washington state made this year's list of American billionaires, recently updated by Forbes magazine.

The group of 10 had an oversized influence on Washington state politics in 2012. But so far this year, the billionaires are mostly sitting on the sidelines.

The net worth of the Evergreen State's crop of billionaires went up last year, but their spending on political campaigns has withered.

Last year, the mega-rich, including Microsoft Corp.’s Bill Gates, Paul Allen and Steve Ballmer, poured about $10 million from their personal fortunes into ballot measures supporting charter schools and gay marriage.

Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos and video game mogul Gabe Newell of Valve Corp. also made at least six-figure contributions to those campaigns.

Both campaigns heavily outspent the opposition, and both measures passed.

Two Nordstrom family heirs, Bruce Nordstrom and Anne Gittinger, along with their spouses, gave more modest sums to state campaigns, totaling less than $40,000 in 2012.

Starbucks Corp. CEO Howard Schultz, Oakley Inc. founder Jim Jannard and telecom billionaire Craig McCaw reported no political contributions to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission in either 2012 or 2013.

This year, the big money in state politics is flooding into advertising on a ballot measure that would require labels on genetically modified foods. But this time, it’s not wealthy individuals behind all those ads: It’s out-of-state corporations.

Businesses involved in genetic engineering, including Monsanto Co., Dupont Co. and Bayer AG, have pumped more than $11 million into the fight to keep genetic labels off food products.

Businesses that promote their organic ingredients have been supporting the Yes on 522 campaign.

The biggest backer of the genetic labeling measure is the maker of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. The California company has given about $1 million.

Here in Washington state, the 0.000001 percent apparently don’t care much whether their food has a "genetically modified" label on it. No billionaires have reported any contributions for or against Initiative 522. That’s true even though the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a major promoter of genetically engineered crops as a high-tech way of fighting hunger in the developing world.