Mikael Thalen by Mikael Thalen
October 17th, 2013
Updated 10/17/2013 at 11:55 pm
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed suit against the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) Wednesday, following earlier reports that revealed the group was laundering donation money to oppose I-522, Washington’s GMO-labeling initiative.
GMA members including PepsiCo, Kraft, and Coca-Cola experienced massive public backlash for donating millions against California’s labeling proposition, the GMA created the “Defense of Brands Strategic Account” for Washington state, an avenue to funnel and conceal its members’ donations.
“Truly fair elections demand all sides follow the rules by disclosing who their donors are and how much they are spending to advocate their views,” Ferguson said in a press release. “The GMA explicitly attempted in their own words, to shield members from criticism for opposing Initiative 522.”
Unknown GMA members have so far donated a total of $7.2 million, becoming 522′s largest opposition group, surpassing Monsanto, Dow, Bayer and Dupont. Given the large donation amount, the GMA is now responsible for the largest campaign disclosure violation in Washington state history.
“$7.2 million is awful lot of money to conceal from the public where they are making a decision about an initiative. The people of the state of Washington feel strongly about disclosure through our campaigns,” Ferguson said. “That’s why we’re bringing this action, and that’s why we want to send a message of deterrence as well for future violators.”
Under state law, the GMA is required to form a registered political committee with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), disclosing how much each individual company contributes. So far, the GMA’s cash has been used to fund a No on 522 TV ad, which GMO labeling supporters want taken down.
“I think that the GMA and the No on 522 campaign is anti-transparency,” Yes on 522 spokeswoman Elizabeth Larter told Q13 Fox. “They just don’t want people to know who’s funding their campaign, just like they don’t want us to know what’s in our food.”
The GMA released a public statement Wednesday, claiming they were unaware of their illegal campaign donation activity.
“GMA…is surprised to learn that the Washington state authorities viewed the association’s actions as improper. GMA will review its actions in Washington state and relevant statutes and continue to cooperate with state authorities to fully resolve the issue as promptly as possible.”
The attorney general is not the first in Washington to file suit against the GMA. Just last month, the group “Moms for Labeling” filed a similar lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court, pointing to the GMA donation laundering as well.
Despite No on 522′s seemingly endless cash supply, now passing $17 million, a poll conducted last September revealed that 66 percent of Washington voters approved of the labeling initiative. Although the opposition has brought in much more than Yes on 522′s $5.5 million, grassroots labeling supporters have donated over $145,000. Astonishingly, only $60 in small contributions have gone to oppose GMO labeling.
At this moment it is unclear whether the GMA will comply by disclosing its donating members, or face “substantial” fines by ignoring state law.