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Wash. activists battling billionaire bucks over gun rights, privacy

Steve Ballmer is among a handful of people who have contributed six figures to Washington state's gun control initiative campaign.
Steve Ballmer is among a handful of people who have contributed six figures to Washington state's gun control initiative campaign.
Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Another big bucks infusion from billionaire Steve Ballmer and his wife, Connie to the Initiative 594 campaign, reported yesterday by the Seattle, shows what Washington state grassroots gun rights activists are up against in their battle to prevent government gun confiscation without due process, while also resisting what they consider an extremist gun control measure that even the state’s rank-and-file police and sheriff’s deputies oppose.

Columnist Joel Connelly notes that I-594, the 18-page gun control scheme backed by wealthy Seattle-area elitists that deals with far more than so-called “universal background checks,” has the support of “big name law enforcement,” namely the King and Snohomish county prosecutors. But the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, and Washington State Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors Association, representing some 7,500 law enforcement professionals, oppose the measure. So do the retired Washington State Parks chief of law enforcement and the president of the Washington State Retired Deputy Sheriffs & Police Officers Association.

WACOPS and WSLEFIA support competing Initiative 591, which is also supported by at least seven county sheriffs. Do some math. Seven sheriffs and 7,500 street cops outnumber, and their collective opinions outweigh, two county prosecutors. Indeed, WACOPS voted to oppose 594 and support 591 after hearing a debate between representatives from the two campaigns, including King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, an I-594 proponent.

Connelly, who has faithfully covered the anti-gun initiative effort, says I-591 “would block background checks.” That’s not quite accurate. I-591 requires background checks to comply with a uniform national standard, which now exists in the form of the 1993 Brady Law.

According to the Public Disclosure Commission, the Ballmers have now kicked in $580,000, with I-594 primary proponents Nick and Lenore Hanauer putting up a total of $485,000 (not including the $15,000 donated by the family business, Pacific Coast Feather). This makes Bill and Melinda Gates appear like pikers, with their joint contribution of $50,000. Ann P. Wyckoff of Shoreline, who lists her occupation as “volunteer,” has kicked in another $175,000.

Add the $50,000 from Jon Shirley, the $25,000 apiece from Donna and Matthew Ballew, another $40,000 from the Barton Family Trust, and $25,000 apiece from five other people including one Seattle couple plus $24,000 from another Seattle man, and you’ve got about half of the $3.4 million so far raised to push the gun control measure.

That’s a total of 16 people and a family trust who have put up a small fortune against what gun rights activists believe are the privacy rights of well more than a million Evergreen State gun owners. Add their concerns about language in the measure that appears to criminalize such common activities as loaning firearms to friends or in-laws without background checks, and you have people wondering why so few people are spending so much money to essentially micro-manage how so many other law-abiding citizens conduct their personal affairs.


This just in: Tracy Newman, finance director for the I-594 campaign, sent an e-mail Tuesday morning that said this:

“We know how to beat this. We know exactly what voters need to hear to clear up this confusion, and we are ready to have hundreds of thousands of conversations with voters all across the state. We just need the resources to fuel our campaign -- and one of our supporters has agreed to match every grassroots donation between now and August 15, up to $20,000.”


On the other side, as Connelly notes, the grassroots I-591 effort, led by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and the Washington Arms Collectors under the umbrella Protect Our Gun Rights organization, has raised $1.1 million. Off to one side it seems, the National Rifle Association, which was used as something of a bogeyman early in the gun control campaign, has set up its own campaign against I-594, raising just $25,000 and spending $17,000 of that. Connelly describes it as a “shell campaign.” The NRA has taken no position on I-591.

The other day, Wes Knodel Gun Shows jumped into the arena, urging its customers – there are no members as with the WAC – and followers to support I-591 and oppose I-594 with contributions. One look at the PDC reports shows that there are no rich fat cat donors to the gun rights efforts, but a lot of smaller contributors from all over the state. The overwhelming support for I-594 is coming from the greater Seattle area. This is shaping up as a battle between wealthy urban elitists and the rest of Washington.

Says Connelly: “The pro-594 forces collected well over $1 million in pledges during a luncheon at the Westin last June. The money has very gradually found its way into Public Disclosure Commission reports, as if the campaign is holding back to see what the gun lobby does.”

What the so-called “gun lobby” does best is fight from behind circled wagons.

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