Stand for Children Has $725,100 Ready to Unseat Charter-unfriendly Judge
On September 4, 2015, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the state’s law regarding charter schools was unconstitutional because it depended upon funding meant for the state’s common schools.
The Court upheld its opinion in November 2015.
The author of the ruling is WA Supreme Court Justice Barbara Madsen, who happens to be up for reelection in 2016.
Of course, those who support charter schools would like to see her gone.
Her opponent, Greg Zempel, is an apparent supporter of charter schools– and it is Greg Zempel who has the backing of Stand for Children WA PAC as an independent expenditure committee led by Stand’s national finance director, Dan Soltesz.
According to Ballotpedia, Zempel is running because the WA Supreme Court is “unpredictable”:
Zempel stated that he is running because the state supreme court is “unpredictable.” He said, “[The court is] highly politicized and they are not deferential to other branches of the government or citizens.” Zempel said that he had decided to challenge Chief Justice Madsen rather than a justice who had been on the court for less time because the chief justice is “more responsible” for the tone of the court.
Another contender for Madsen’s seat, John Scannell, has no funding. A primary is scheduled for August 2, 2016, and the election, for November 8, 2016.
If one considers the direct cash contributions to Madsen and Zempel, the contribution playing field appears to offer Zempel only a slight edge: Zempel has raised a total of $40,626 to date; Madsen, a total of $30,140. (Note that Zempel’s las filing was in July, and Madsen’s, in February.)
However, as the July 28, 2016, Seattle Times reports— and as Zimpel’s own campaign finance report notes– he has an independent expenditure (IE) committee behind him, not passing money directly to him but campaigning on his behalf.
Cash Contributions for:: MADSEN BARBARA A
- Total Raised:$30,139.71
- Total Spent:$8,025.76
- Total IE Supporting:$0.00
- Total IE Opposing:$0.00
Cash Contributions for:: ZEMPEL GREGORY L
- Total Raised:$40,626.65
- Total Spent:$23,304.54
- Total IE Supporting:$115,714.29
- Total IE Opposing:$0.00
The IE backing Zempel is the Stand for Children WA PAC.
Even though the PAC has spent 116,000 to date on ads for Zempel, it notes a total of $725,100 raised between February and June 2016. The chief contributor to the Stand for Children WA PAC is Connie Ballmer, wife of former Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, who contributed $500,000 in February 2016. Some background on the Ballmers, as Inside Philanthropy notes:
OVERVIEW: Steve Ballmer has not been a high-profile philanthropist. But his wife, Connie Snyder Ballmer, is closely involved with the nonprofit world, and the couple’s efforts to help children and families offer a strong hint of where they may focus their philanthropy.
BACKGROUND: Ballmer grew up in Detroit, and attended Harvard, where he met Bill Gates. Dropping out of Stanford Business School to work for Microsoft, he eventually succeeded Bill Gates as the CEO, running the company from 2000 until February 2014. In May 2014, he had the opportunity to purchase the LA Clippers basketball team for $2 billion, and officially became the Clippers’ owner in August. In 2015 Ballmer revealed that he had acquired a 4% stake in Twitter.
On the Stand for Children WA PAC filing, Connie Ballmer of Hunts Point, WA, is listed as a “community volunteer.”
Another Stand for Children WA PAC backer is Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who pitched $200,000 into the WA race on July 14, 2016, from his home perch of Los Gatos, California.
The last big contribution ($25,000 on July 18) comes from Seattle-based Vulcan, Inc., a private company led by Paul Allen and which nebulously describes itself and its mission as follows:
Vulcan Inc. is a nimble private company based in Seattle, Washington working to solve some of the biggest global issues. The projects and investments we pursue are inspired by the ideas of our founder Paul G. Allen and tethered to a simple principle; we use data to inform our efforts and seek out opportunities that can make a positive impact—and share what we learn.
Vulcan supports innovative approaches that can save endangered species, address climate change, improve ocean health, explore new frontiers, research how the human brain works and build sustainable communities. Brain science and basketball, community space and outer space, art and artificial intelligence—at Vulcan, we strive to answer big questions asked by our founder, and by the world. If we can understand the mysterious organ, the brain, we can pave the way towards understanding diseases like Alzheimer’s. If we can change the economics of space launches, we can change space travel and exploration. If we can get the formula right for a new kind of downtown neighborhood, it becomes a guide for the innovation centers of tomorrow.
With a local focus and a global reach, Vulcan’s programs, projects and initiatives bring together industry leaders collaborating across disciplines to discover and develop smart, data-driven solutions and create inspiring experiences that help us tackle some of the world’s toughest challenges.
So, Zempel basically has three-quarters of a million dollars available for ads promoting his campaign, and Madsen has $30,000.
One can see where this is going: Stand for Children WA PAC wants to coat the Washington public with a thick layer of Zempel ads so that there will be no more Madsen to, uh, interfere with the Washington taxpayer money flow to those unfortunate charter schools.
For now, Washington’s charters are being funded using lottery proceeds thanks to an April 2016 bill that Governor Jay Inslee chose not to sign, as the Seattle Times reports:
Caught between well-funded advocates trying to save charter schools and charter opponents urging a veto, including the state’s largest teachers union, Gov. Jay Inslee is choosing to do nothing.
In a letter to Secretary of State Kim Wyman released Friday afternoon, Inslee said he will allow Senate Bill 6194 to become law without his signature, rather than vetoing it or signing it. In the letter, he expressed concerns that the unelected boards of charters would still be allowed to make decisions about how to spend public money. …
It’s the first time in 35 years that a Washington governor has allowed a bill to become law without a signature. …
The new legislation will fund charter schools with proceeds from the state lottery, which go into an account that’s separate from the general fund.
Charters are publicly funded, privately run schools that are legal in most states.
Nine charters have opened since the passage of the 2012 law, although one has since converted back into a private school. Three more are to open this fall. The existing eight serve about 1,100 students in the Seattle, Highline, Kent, Tacoma and Spokane school districts. …
Charter supporters, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have spent millions of dollars since September keeping the existing charters afloat and lobbying the Legislature.
And now, there is Stand for Children WA PAC, handsomely financing Zempel’s election to the WA Supreme Court undoubtedly to work a little Court decision reversal magic to send public money into privately-run WA charter coffers.