Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie have contributed $2.5 million to the campaign to retain marriage equality at the ballot in Washington this fall, an amount that advocates believe to be the largest-ever individual gift to such efforts.
Washington United for Marriage, the coalition working to protect the law by approving Referendum 74 this November, announced the historic gift Friday morning. The contribution doubled the money raised so far by the coalition, which had raised $2.5 million before the gift and expects to raise more than $8 million for the entire effort.
"I am thrilled by Jeff and MacKenzie's staggeringly generous donation," said Jennifer Cast, the finance co-chair for the coalition who spent over seven years in senior positions at Amazon.com, in a statement. "Their support of our efforts to approve R74 comes at an important time and will have great impact. I am deeply grateful to both of them as this donation is going to help us make history."
The New York Times reports on how the gift happened. Cast, a lesbian mother of four children, sent an e-mail Sunday evening to Mr. Bezos. She had never talked about marriage equality with him, but in her note, she explained the importance of the issue to her family.
"I want to have the right to marry the love of my life and to let my children and grandchildren know their family is honored like a 'real' family," she wrote. "We need help from straight people. To be very frank, we need help from wealthy straight people who care about us and who want to help us win."
Cast talked about her struggle coming out, and asked Bezos to donate between $100,000 and $200,000. She wrote, "Jeff, I suspect you support marriage equality. I beg you not to sit on the sidelines and hope the vote goes our way. Help us make it so."
She received a reply by e-mail two days later that said, "Jen, this is right for so many reasons. We're in for $2.5 million. Jeff & MacKenzie."
Other business leaders from Washington have supported the campaign. Microsoft founder Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer have each contributed $100,000, while Microsoft Corporation has contributed $10,000. The company joined Nike, Starbucks, Alcoa, Google, and other globally competitive Northwest employers in endorsing the marriage equality legislation that passed this year.
A Public Policy Polling survey last month showed that 51% of Washington voters supported marriage equality, with 42% opposed and 7% undecided. Three years ago, voters upheld an expanded domestic partnerships law, which makes campaigners hopeful that Washington could be among the first states to end a losing streak for marriage equality at the ballot box. Measures are also scheduled for public votes in Maine, Maryland and Minnesota.
The Associated Press reported last month that opponents of the Washington referendum have raised more than $135,000. Protect Marriage Washington, the group that collected petition signatures to challenge the law, said it expects to start raising money at an accelerated pace soon, with an ultimate goal of $4 million including help from partners like the National Organization for Marriage.
Washington United for Marriage expressed optimism that the Bezos' contribution would cement momentum on their side.
"The extraordinary contribution from Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos will make an enormous difference for our campaign to defend Washington's marriage law," said campaign manager, Zach Silk. "While it provides an amazing base for the work ahead, we hope it spurs others to invest because we're a long way from November and we face opponents with deep pockets who are committed to spending millions to defeat us."