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Charter-school supporters using Costco-style strategy

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By Jerry Cornfield
Herald Columnist
Today I bring you electioneering in three acts.
A Costco brand of politics: When owners of Costco tired of lawmakers' refusal to get the state out of the business of selling hard liquor, its leaders went around them last year.
They opened the corporate vault and committed to spend whatever it took. which turned out to be in the neighborhood of $20 million. to pass Initiative 1183 opening the door for sales of booze in supermarkets everywhere.
Now, seven well-heeled individuals -- they're not a Super PAC so we'll call them Super (Rich) Citizens -- are following a similar path to erase the state's ban on charter schools. They've put up $1.775 million, so far, toward qualifying Initiative 1240 for the ballot this fall.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates is in for $1 million and Jackie and Mike Bezos, parents of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, have put up $450,000. The other donors are familiar names in Washington's corporate circles: Paul Allen, Nicholas Hanauer, Katherine Binder and Benjamin Slivka.
Their money is paying PCI Consulting of California to gather the roughly 242,000 signatures by the July 6 deadline. It's a huge task as the gathering process only began this month. PCI has brought in professionals from other states to help with the effort.
Supporters are confident they'll succeed and are pondering a campaign. How much will it cost?
If the Super Citizens are of the same mindset as Costco execs, the check books will be open for withdrawals as needed.
Liias wins, now pony up: Apparently, it costs money to beat nobody.
With no opponent, state Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, figured it'd be nifty and thrifty to combine his re-election kick-off and re-election victory parties into one event tonight.
Liias' invitation to the 5:30 p.m. bash comes with an appeal for donations. As of Wednesday he had racked up $995 in pledges from 22 people.
Why he needs the dough isn't clear in the appeal unless the bevy of honorary hosts including Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick, Snohomish County Councilwoman Stephanie Wright and state Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds intend to stick their friend with a large tab for the combo gala.
Liias started the week having raised $23,303 for re-election with more than half of it in the bank. In the past few days, with the outcome long past assured, he received $900 checks from political action committees representing school teachers, principals and auto dealers.
Reached Tuesday, Liias offered an explanation. He said his name will appear on the primary and general election ballots and, as a result of redistricting, thousands of potential voters may not realize he's now their person in Olympia. He figures to send a mailer to many of them.
"We'll spend a teeny bit of money getting my name in front of them," he said. "And because I'm unopposed, this is one little way to remind people I'm still here and I'm working for them."
Dark crude and cold brews: For awhile there, Mukilteo's initiative impresario Tim Eyman couldn't decide whether his ballot fight this year should be about unplugging red-light cameras or making it hard on lawmakers to raise taxes.
And either way he had no money with which to mount a fight.
That changed quickly once he settled on Initiative 1185 to retain an existing law requiring new taxes to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or a vote of the people.
He made up his mind April 2 and soon after money from Big Oil and Big Booze started flowing into the nearly empty tank of Eyman's political machine.
BP Oil gassed up the effort with a $100,000 donation April 11. That same day, Eyman paid $100,000 to Citizen Solutions to hire professional signature gatherers.
Conoco Phillips pumped in $100,000 on April 30 and the Beer Institute, whose members include Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, poured in the single largest contribution, $400,000, on May 16.
Also in May, the Washington Beer and Wine Institute and the Association of Washington Business provided in-kind contributions by writing checks of $100,000 and $185,000, respectively, directly to the signature-gathering firm.
All told, Eyman is getting $885,000 worth of aid from the oil and beer industries which hope the investment will pay off in November.
Political reporter Jerry Cornfield's blog, The Petri Dish, is at Contact him at 360-352-8623 or

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