OLYMPIA — A Seattle organization has donated $500,000 to the coalition urging Washington voters to approve a new law that reinstates affirmative action.

Group Health Community Foundation’s donation to the Washington Fairness Coalition represents the bulk of the $588,996 raised by that campaign, according to state campaign-finance records.

And the donation marks the first six-figure contribution on either side of the debate over the new affirmative action law, which is on the ballot as Referendum 88.

Passed by Washington’s Democratic-controlled Legislature this spring, the law — known as Initiative 1000 — is intended to boost diversity in public education, employment and contracting, without using quotas or preferential treatment. It reverses a ban on affirmative action that Washington voters approved in 1998.

Opponents, led by a group of Chinese immigrants, have called it racially divisive. Among other things, they contend that because the law would help establish goals and timelines for more diversity, it effectively sets up quotas.

Those opponents gathered signatures to put I-1000 on the election ballot as Referendum 88. A vote in favor of Referendum 88 approves I-1000; a vote against puts the affirmative-action ban back in place.


Group Health Community Foundation is a 501(c)4 organization formed with money from California-based health organization Kaiser Permanente’s 2017 purchase of Group Health Cooperative, according to foundation president and CEO Nichole Maher.

Maher said the foundation is focused on working for equity, including for people of color and people with disabilities.

“Referendum 88 affirms our state’s commitment to giving all people a fair shot at becoming leaders that will move Washington forward,” Maher wrote in an email.

The opposing campaign, Let People Vote, has raised nearly $1.1 million, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission (PDC).

Most of that money went toward getting signatures collected to put the referendum on the ballot. As of Tuesday, Let People Vote had about $185,000 on hand, according to PDC records.

Another campaign committee formed to oppose Referendum 88, Grassroots against I-1000, has raised about $26,000.


The opposition campaign Tuesday got a boost of its own. The Asian American Coalition for Education urged people to help campaign against Referendum 88.

A New Jersey-based nonprofit advocating for Asian American students, the group announced an alliance with other organizations around the nation to oppose the new affirmative-action law.

In a news release Tuesday, the coalition said, “our national alliance and all its member organizations vow to fight against the attempt to legalize racial discrimination in Washington State!”