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Tuesday, June 22, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

School-initiative supporters lead in fund raising

By Matthew Rodriguez
Seattle Times staff reporter

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An effort to increase education spending through a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax tops fund raising by initiative committees, according to reports filed with the Public Disclosure Commission.

Citizens for the Education Trust Fund, which is backing Initiative 884, raised about $430,000 through the end of last month, including nearly $142,000 in May.

Overall, initiative committees have raised more than $1.8 million and have spent about $1.5 million, reports show. Nearly $717,000 has been spent on signature gathering.

Several committees have sprung up to oppose initiatives as well, although opposition groups usually do not gain strength until signature gathering has been completed. Opponents to proposed initiatives have raised about $246,000 and spent about $124,000.

Natalie Reber, director of communications for Citizens for the Education Trust Fund, said the organization has mounted a large signature-gathering effort, both paid and volunteer.

"We're pretty much on track for where we anticipated to be," Reber said.

"We're very confident that we're going to be on the ballot."

The committee has spent nearly $231,000 on signature gathering, according to recent filings.

An Amazon.com founding investor, Nick Hanauer, has given $185,000 to the committee. William Gates Sr., Bill Gates' father and co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, made a personal contribution of $50,000 in April.

"I have shouldered a big part of this effort," Hanauer said. "But I'm happy and proud to have been able to do it. It's a great project."

Based on the amount of money raised so far, the education initiative and an initiative to allow the use of slot machines off Indian reservations appear to be "slam-dunks" to land on the fall ballot, according to Todd Donovan, a professor of political science at Western Washington University.
 
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The slot-machine measure, Initiative 892, is backed by veteran initiative promoter Tim Eyman. Eyman has teamed with the gaming industry, card rooms and bowling alleys to raise more than $300,000 for the proposal.

But the initiative committee that has raised the second-highest amount of money, Let's Get Washington Moving, announced last week it has halted plans to try to put its highway-construction measure, Initiative 883, on the fall ballot.

The committee had raised more than $353,000. Supported by developer Kemper Freeman Jr., the measure called for constructing freeway and highway lanes with money from current state taxes on fuel and automobile sales.

It also would have allowed all drivers to use commuter lanes during times other than rush hours. Organizers say they may refile the measure as an initiative to the 2005 Legislature.

Another measure, Initiative 872, which Donovan considers "probable" to make the ballot, is backed by the Washington State Grange.

It would change the state's primary system to advance the top two primary finishers to the general election, regardless of their political parties.

The initiative's committee, Citizens Preserving Voter Choice, has raised about $290,000, spending nearly $113,000 on signature gathering. The committee raised more than $144,000 in May alone.

More than $172,000 of the committee's total contributions have come from the Grange.

"A lot of people are much more willing to support it and commit to it once it's qualified for the ballot," said Don Whiting, a Grange spokesman. "You kind of have to carry the ball yourself before everyone jumps [on board]."

Some observers noted that funding for signature gathering does not necessarily equate to support among voters.

"I don't think there's a direct 1-to-1 relationship between spending and support at the polls," said pollster Stuart Elway.

Matthew Rodriguez: 206-464-3192 or mrodriguez@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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