Microsoft billionaires Bill Gates, Jon Shirley and Steve Ballmer have added their names to the exclusive list of wealthy donors funding a "gun control" campaign in Washington, D.C. (Photo from the World Economic Forum)
Fundraising for a gun-control campaign in Washington state is outpacing opponents by a ratio of 4-to-1, fueled by contributions from former Microsoft Corp. executives Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Jon Shirley.
They and other supporters have given about $3.4 million to the effort to impose criminal background checks on those who buy firearms online or at gun shows. A competing gun-rights initiative has garnered about $1.1 million to require buyer background checks only when the seller is a firearms dealer, the current federal standard.
“Maybe technology-oriented people are a little more comfortable with being disruptive,” said Rich Barton, who founded travel website Expedia Inc. while working at Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft and donated $42,500 to the gun-control measure. “We can’t get our legislatures to reflect the will of the people, and so if we need to take our case directly to the people via a ballot initiative, so be it.”
U.S. billionaires are increasingly using their wealth to champion causes at the polls. California hedge-fund founder Tom Steyer successfully backed a 2012 measure to close a corporate tax loophole, while Susan Buffett, daughter of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Warren Buffett, is supporting Chuck Hassebrook, a Democrat running for Nebraska governor.
In Washington state, they are taking on the National Rifle Association, the largest U.S. gun lobby, which has seen few defeats in its effort to beat back gun restrictions in legislatures and the courts.
Washington’s dueling initiatives represent the only electoral clash over gun purchases in November.
Gates and his wife Melinda donated $50,000, Ballmer and his wife Connie gave $580,000, and Shirley gave $50,000, according to state Public Disclosure Commission data. Gates and Ballmer also donated to a campaign in Washington state to fend off an attempt to repeal a same-sex marriage law in 2012.
A Gates family spokesman, John Pinette, declined to comment on the gun issue. Ballmer didn’t respond to an e-mail request for comment, while Shirley didn’t reply to a telephone call seeking comment.