Something rare and historic is happening to Washington state’s Supreme Court. An unprecedented number of incumbent seats (three to be exact) will be challenged Nov. 8 — and some of the biggest names in the tech world see that as an opportunity.
Bill Gates, Steve and Connie Ballmer, and Paul Allen’s investment firm Vulcan Inc. have collectively donated $525,000 in the past week to the Washington State Supreme Court campaign of Dave Larson, currently a municipal court judge in Federal Way, Wash., south of Seattle.
Contributions went to the new Political Action Committee (PAC) called Citizens for Working Courts Enterprise Washington, according to a report from NW News Network. The funds will be used to promote Larson, who is running for the Washington state Supreme Court seat currently occupied by Justice Charlie Wiggins.
Education is a key issue for business leaders pouring money into the Supreme Court races.
The PAC throwing its weight behind Larson is likely due to his background with the landmark McCleary lawsuit, which called on the state to fully fund public schools. When he was president of the Federal Way School Board, Larson spearheaded an education-funding lawsuit. It was unsuccessful, but it laid the groundwork for the state Supreme Court McCleary ruling, according to The Seattle Times.
In 2012, Bill Gates, Vulcan Inc, Connie Ballmer, and other tech leaders collectively donated millions of dollars toward a public charter school initiative. Chief Justice Barbara Madsen authored the court’s decision to declare Washington charter schools unconstitutional in 2015. The Ballmers, Paul Allen, Vulcan, and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings have also made large contributions to the campaign of Greg Zempel, who is seeking to unseat Madsen.
“Paul G. Allen’s contribution to Citizens for Working Courts Enterprise Washington is intended to ensure innovation in education — including charter schools — remains a priority in Washington State,” said a Vulcan spokesperson. “We were dismayed by the court’s 2015 ruling to strike down charter schools and are committed to ensuring that politics don’t hinder the development of practices that could provide life-changing experiences for all types of students.”
The Citizens for Working Courts will begin airing a TV ad today, according to Michael Davis, president of Enterprise Washington, the group sponsoring the PAC. The organization is also circulating mailers and online ads in support of Larson.
“Judge Larson has earned endorsements from many bipartisan groups,” Davis said. “The court is a nonpartisan position but he has bipartisan support from democratic legislative organizations, republican legislative organizations, unions, he also has support from business organizations and police officers so he has a wide range of groups that have realized that he would be a much better fit for the court.”
Wiggins calls the fundraising efforts of Citizens for Working Courts “an attempt to purchase a seat on the court,” according to NW News Network.