Reed Hastings gives $1 million to IE backing Jack O’Connell

Reed Hastings, the founder and CEO of Netflix and a former state board of education member, has donated $1 million to an independent expenditure committee aimed at boosting state schools superintendent Jack O’Connell’s gubernatorial hopes in 2010.

Of course, the race won’t even begin for two more years. So what’s the rush? O’Connell supporters are hoping the money will help elevate the state superintendent into the top tier of candidates when donors and political pundits begin their 2010 speculation. O’Connell is a Democrat.

“O’Connell’s legislative experience and past history of strong statewide voter support makes him a top tier candidate for Governor of California,” said James Harrison, a spokesman for O’Connell Leadership 2010. “The O’Connell Leadership Committee will be just one of many organizations supporting his candidacy.

O’Connell, who served in the Assembly and Senate representing a Santa Barbara district, has talked openly about his desire to run for governor in 2010. But he is often upstaged in media accounts by his more high-profile potential challengers – among them Attorney General Jerry Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

O’Connell’s campaign consultant, Gale Kaufman, said the donation “completely took me by surprise.” Kaufman declined further comment on the donation or the committee, since O’Connell’s campaign can not coordinate campaign efforts with the independent expenditure committee.

For Hastings, the move continues his demonstrated willingness to place serious money behind candidates and causes he believes in. Hastings helped bankroll a statewide effort to reduce the vote threshold to make it easier for municipalities to pass local school bonds.

He contributed $3 million to a failed attempt to increase parcel taxes to raise revenues for public schools, and gave more than $2 million to a failed effort to reduce the vote threshold in the legislature to pass a state budget.

Hastings has also contributed to Gov. Gray Davis, who appointed Hastings to the state board of education. Hastings was reappointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger, but his nomination was defeated in the Senate, with the opposition led by former Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Whittier, over Hasting’s views on bilingual education.
At Hasting’s confirmation hearing, O’Connell was among those on hand to testify on Hastings’ behalf.

And Hastings has been involved in past O’Connell campaigns. In the pre-campaign spending limits era, Hastings was O’Connell’s largest single campaign donor.
While Hastings has shown his willingness to invest money in his friend’s candidacy, there is no guarantee that he will actually spend that money. Committee sources say there are no immediate plans to spend the $1 million, and in theory, Hastings could have the money refunded to him if O’Connell’s plans change.

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