OLYMPIA — While Washington voters won’t weigh in on two competing gun-related ballot measures for months, money is already pouring into the campaigns in advance of the November election.
Initiative 594, which is proposing universal background checks for gun sales and transfers, has a significant fundraising advantage over its rival. Initiative 591 would prevent Washington state from adopting background-check laws that go beyond the national standard, which requires the checks for sales by licensed dealers but not for purchases from private sellers. Both campaigns are expected to draw national money in the coming months as the campaign heats up.
“I would imagine this will be the one of the most expensive initiative campaigns in the country because of what it symbolically stands for,” University of Washington political science professor Matt Barreto said.
I-594 would require background checks for all gun sales and transfers in Washington state, including at gun shows and private sales. Under the measure, some exemptions would exist, including gifts within a family and antiques. Supporters have raised more than $3.4 million, of which $580,000 came from former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife, Connie. That amount includes a $250,000 donation in the past few weeks.
Bill and Melinda Gates have given $50,000 to I-594, and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, and his mother, Lenore, have given a combined $490,000, and Hanauer has pledged an additional $530,000.
“It’s important for the campaign to have such prominent members of our community stand together and be willing to invest in making this important policy change,” said Zach Silk, I-594’s campaign manager. “We want to run a very competitive campaign.”
The other proposal, I-591, in addition to preventing the state from expanding checks beyond the federal standard, would also prohibit confiscation of firearms without due process The initiative has raised more than $1 million, of which $850,000 has been donated by Washington Arms Collectors, based in Renton.
The National Rifle Association has created a separate political committee, called the National Rifle Association of America Washingtonians Opposed to I-594. The committee has spent just over $17,500 and has reported raising $25,000. Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s lobbying arm, is listed as campaign manager for the group. He did not return a call seeking comment.
Both campaigns, having spent a good portion of their funds to qualify for the ballot — I-594 spent $ 2.2 million thus far, and I-591 has spent more than $770,000 — are likely to see an increase in fundraising after Labor Day, when voters generally start paying more attention to campaigns.
“”These folks will be on TV nonstop,” Barreto said. “It’s going to be harder for the voters to keep them straight. It’s hard enough when there’s one initiative on one issue. When there’s more than one initiative on an issue, it can lead to a lot of misinformation.”
Alan Gottlieb, chairman for Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, who is leading the campaign for I-591, said that without knowing for certain if the NRA will come in with big money to lobby against I-594, his campaign has an uphill battle.
“Whoever gets to frame the issue usually wins,” he said, noting that right now “the other side has the money to frame the issue.”
Lawmakers had considered a measure similar to I-594 during the 2013 legislative session, but it didn’t pass either chamber. Both I-594 and I-591 started as initiatives to the Legislature. Lawmakers held hearings on the measures earlier this year, but didn’t take action, sending the measures to voters.
The latest poll showed strong support among voters for I-594. The July survey of 506 registered voters by independent pollster Stuart Elway found that 70 percent were inclined to support I-594, and that 22 percent were opposed. When asked about I-591, 46 percent were inclined to vote for that measure, while 42 were opposed. Thirty-two percent of respondents said they were inclined to vote for both initiatives.
If both pass, they would likely go to the courts for resolution, but the Legislature also could take them up, said David Ammons, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office.
Initiative 594: wagunresponsibility.org
Initiative 591: wagunrights.org/tag/initiative-591