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Big money rolls into gun control campaign; who is ‘anonymous donor?’

Gun rights advocate Alan Gottlieb is facing big bucks in the dueling initiatives battle, and here he examines new voter registration forms gathered as part of the fight.
Dave Workman

Yesterday’s latest “kickoff” of the Initiative 594 campaign in Seattle reportedly brought in a $1 million pledge from Nick and Leslie Hanauer – prime bank-rollers of the gun control effort so far – along with what the Seattle reported was “a six-figure pledge from an anonymous donor,” and that is troubling to gun rights activists.

When an issue threatens to erode what they consider are not only firearms rights but privacy rights, “six-figure” pledges to that campaign should not be anonymous. It’s an age-old principle held dear by the press: The public has a right to know.

Gun rights activists deserve the identity of an individual who wants to press so-called “universal background checks” in the wake of the California tragedy 11 days ago that proved such checks don’t prevent violent crimes or guarantee public safety. If some “anonymous donor” was pledging six figures to defeat the initiative, every reporter along the I-5 corridor from Bellingham to Vancouver would be clamoring to identify that big bucks sugar daddy, and they know it.

Consider the outcry if Bellevue gun rights advocate Alan Gottlieb, who is spearheading the campaign for competing Initiative 591, announced a six-figure pledge from an anonymous donor to Protect Our Gun Rights, the coalition backing that measure. Gottlieb has been the most public face in the “dueling initiatives” saga for the past 14 months; far more familiar than the wealthy backers of the gun control effort.

The’s revelation raises another question. Is such a promised contribution even legal under state public disclosure laws? A pledge is not actually a contribution, but when that money comes in, citizens have a right to know from whom it came. According to the Public Disclosure Commission, in May of last year, the National Institute on Money in State Politics gave Washington an “A” grade for disclosing independent expenditures. “Washington is one of only nine states to earn a perfect score,” the PDC notes on its website.

Gun owners may soon not be the only people wondering who is putting up big bucks to push a measure they argue is far less about public safety and far more about a handful of Seattle centric millionaires trying to buy the privacy rights and create a permanent registry of perhaps as many as two million Washington citizens. These people own firearms and have committed no crimes, and are guilty only of exercising a constitutionally-protected civil right.

The National Rifle Association has weighed in on I-594 and will urge its Evergreen State members – a number estimated to be in the neighborhood of 90,000 to 100,000, plus their registered voter family members – to vote against the 18-page gun control package. The NRA has so far taken no position on the opposing initiative, the one-page I-591, which requires background checks conducted in Washington to comply with a uniform national standard, which currently exists under the 1993 Brady Law.

Perhaps the Seattle’s Joel Connelly put it best when he wrote late yesterday, “I-594 campaign manager Zach Silk insisted that the campaign is reaching into all corners of the state. Clearly, however, it remains centered in Seattle, with its strongest base in the city’s faith community and among political leaders and prosecutors in King and Snohomish Counties.”

Lurking in the background are suspicions that billionaire gun prohibitionist Michael Bloomberg, ex-mayor of New York and founder of the anti-gun Mayors Against Illegal Guns, may be ready to dump some big money here. Two months ago, he put up $50 million to create a so-called “grassroots” gun control effort dubbed “Everytown for Gun Safety.”

Yesterday’s “kickoff” coverage also put the lie to rest about which side of this battle has the deep pockets. KIRO reported that the gun control group plans to raise $8 to $9 million, while grassroots gun rights activists are looking to raise perhaps $1 million. As Connelly put it, “The NRA faces a seven-figure spending decision on whether to contest the fall election.”

Yet, this is not just the NRA’s fight, a fact that has been misrepresented by gun prohibitionists since this campaign really launched more than one year ago. The I-591 effort epitomizes “grassroots” with participation from the hunting, target shooting, collecting and law enforcement communities, from all over the state. What they lack in funding – which will largely be raised with small contributions from largely blue-collar working stiffs who ate their lunch yesterday from a brown bag rather than a plate at the Westin Hotel – will be made up in manpower and, important in November, votes.

I-591 supporters and I-594 opponents will be pushing to get out the vote, and to register gun owners who are currently not registered to vote. This will be critical come November, because while people like Nick and Leslie Hanauer have a million dollars to spend, they only one vote apiece.

Between now and then, those energized gun owners, whose privacy is at stake with this massive spending measure that amounts to what many believe is an “unfunded mandate” for local police agencies and small town and county governments will want the answer to a nagging question. Who is this “anonymous donor” willing to put up big money to erode their rights?

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