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October 9, 2012; Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

When it comes to campaigns to allow for (or to expand) charter schools, a scorecard won’t help you distinguish the philanthropic support from the political donations supporting privately managed but publicly funded charter schools.

Washington State is one of only nine states that don’t allow charter schools. Ballot initiatives to permit charter schools have failed in Washington three times before, but the big money is really flowing in this year behind Initiative 1240, which would permit the creation of up to 40 charter schools in the Evergreen State. Here are some of the political donors supporting 1240 and their pro-charter school philanthropic, charitable, or nonprofit identities:

Political Donor to Initiative 1240

Philanthropic, Charitable, or Nonprofit Identity

Bill Gates, $3 million

Founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private foundation, and a major promoter of charter schools and school choice; see the foundation’s “Charter Schools and Networks” strategy statement

Alice Walton, $1.7 million

Wal-Mart heiress, board member of Walton Family Foundation, whose multiple initiatives in education reform include several programs promoting charter schools, including the featured Public Charter Startup Grant Program

Paul Allen, $100,000

Microsoft billionaire with eponymous foundation that has major education reform grant program, though with no obvious grant support of significant charter school adherents and supporters other than Teach for America

Connie Ballmer, $100,000

Wife of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and on the advisory board of Stand for Children, which cites among its achievements efforts to expand charter schools and oppose caps on charters

Nick Hanauer, $1 million

Seattle venture capitalist, recently known for his controversial TEDx talk on income inequality and the need to tax the wealthy; founder of the True Patriot Network and the League of Education Voters, the latter promoting charter schools as necessary for “creat(ing) more options for parents to find the best learning environments for our children”

Mike and Jackie Bezos,

$500,000 apiece

Parents of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, they established the Bezos Family Foundation, which has a program on excellence in K-12 education, with grants to privatizers such as Teach for America and the New York/New Jersey charter school operator Uncommon Schools

Katherine Binder, $200,000

Chairwoman of EMFCO Holdings (Exotic Metals Forming Company), making parts for commercial and military aircraft; EMFCO’s company foundation is the Lochland Foundation, which gave $100,000 in 2011 and $82,000 in 2010 to Hanauer’s League of Education Voters and over $100,000 between 2010 and 2011 to CHRISTA Ministries, which runs the K-12 faith-based King’s Schools

Microsoft, $50,000

See Gates, Ballmer above

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer identifies other donors, including Anne Dinning and Michael Wolf ($100,000) who founded Turnaround for Children and Reed Hastings ($100,000) of Netflix, just to name a couple more. The newspaper says that Initiative 1240 is called the “billionaires’ initiative” because it “is a demonstration of the political clout of personal and corporate wealth in the initiative process.”

Given the donors’ control of influential institutions of philanthropic wealth, a better nickname for I-1240 might be the “billionaire philanthropist initiative.” Who says foundations shy away from lobbying? When the foundations have living donors worth multiple millions or billions, their public policy influence is multifaceted, powerful, and clearly well-capitalized.—Rick Cohen