Washington state’s Attorney General’s Office last week said The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) collected even more money than they initially tallied in violation of campaign finance laws. GMA had campaigned hard in their successful stoppage of Initiative 522 (I-522), Washington’s would-be GMO labeling bill.
“Washington state voters demand transparency and openness in elections,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson in a statement. “All sides must follow the rules by disclosing who their donors are and how much they are spending to advocate their views.”
On November 22, the Attorney General’s Office amended its lawsuit against GMA. The amended complaint increases the amount the state alleges GMA collected from its members to oppose I-522 without complying with Washington’s campaign finance laws from $7.2 million to $10.6 million. This is the largest amount the state has ever addressed in a campaign finance concealment case.
I-522 was the measure before Washington voters on the November 5 ballot requiring mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, seeds, and seed products in Washington state. Voters rejected the measure by 51.75 percent.
In all, over $33 million was donated to the campaign against I-522 compared with over $9 million for the campaign in favor of GMO labeling, according to Responsible Choices, a non-partisan nonprofit organization.
GMA is a trade association, based in Washington DC, representing more than 300 food, beverage and consumer product companies. GMA was the largest single donor to the No on 522 campaign.
GMA, as an out-of-state entity, has 60 days to respond to the original lawsuit and 60 days to respond to the amended lawsuit. Unless the case is resolved prior to trial, the state will first have to prove the GMA violated Washington campaign finance laws. After the state proves the violations, the court will determine the appropriate penalties.
According to the Attorney General’s Office:
On October 16, the state filed a lawsuit alleging GMA had solicited and collected roughly $7.2 million from its own members, placing these funds in a special account to be used to oppose I-522. The organization did not report these funds to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission at the time it collected them from its members. GMA then spent those funds on the No on 522 campaign.
Under Washington law, the state alleges GMA should have first formed a political committee, registered it in Washington, and followed Washington campaign finance disclosure requirements before contributing the money to the No on 522 campaign.
On October 18, two days after Attorney General’s Office filed its lawsuit, GMA registered a political committee (GMA Against I-522) and reported $7.2 million in contributions from its members. This is the same amount it had already given to No on 522.
In late October, GMA Against I-522 reported roughly $3.8 million more in contributions from its members, which it then spent on the No on 522 campaign.
Roughly $3.4 million of the $3.8 million was collected by GMA from its members prior to registering a political committee in mid-October.
These contributions increase the total amount the GMA received and expended on electoral activity in Washington without timely registering as a political committee and reporting the full amount of contributions collected. The Attorney General’s Office amended the state’s complaint today to increase the total amount concealed from $7.2 to more than $10.6 million to capture the $3.4 million in additional contributions reported after the original lawsuit was filed.
The amended complaint also notes that the GMA could be found in violation of other provisions of the state’s campaign finance laws for failing to abide by the obligations of a political committee.