From a nationally record-setting judgment against a lobbying group hiding the identities of its corporate donors from Washington voters, to exposing a major corporation’s knowledge of the dangers of its products, my office remains hard at work protecting your right to know.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
When powerful interests try to work in the shadows, my office will be there to shine a light.
In this issue:
- Grocery Manufacturers Association to pay largest campaign finance penalty in history
- Holding Monsanto accountable for legacy of environmental damage
- Fighting discrimination before the state Supreme Court
- National spotlight on Hanford worker safety issues
- 2016 Open Government Resource Manual now available
- Working around Washington
Happy holidays, and thank you for following the work of the Attorney General’s Office.
Washington State Attorney General
Washingtonians deserve to know about the forces that influence their elections. A historic ruling serves as a firm rebuke to one secretive scheme — and a stern warning for any other entity seeking to keep Washington voters in the dark.
My lawsuit against the Grocery Manufacturers Association resulted in a Thurston County Superior Court ruling with $18 million in penalties and punitive damages, agreeing with my contention that the Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group intentionally violated our campaign-finance laws.
This is the largest campaign finance judgment ever handed down in the United States. The largest penalty ever imposed in a Federal Election Commission case — the campaign watchdog on the national level — was $3.8 million. In Washington, the largest such case involved a $735,000 penalty.
In 2013, GMA raised over $14 million for a new “Defense of Brands” account. PepsiCo, for example, contributed nearly $3 million to the account, and Nestle and Coca-Cola contributed nearly $2 million each.
GMA then contributed $11 million of that $14 million to a committee opposing Initiative 522 (labeling of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in food sold to consumers). GMA shielded companies from disclosure by listing the money as coming from GMA and not the actual donors, such as Pepsi, Nestle and Coke.
I took this case to trial in order to hold GMA accountable for their willful disregard of Washington state campaign finance laws.
The Seattle Times
Grocery group fined $18M in fight against GMO food-labeling initiative
Northwest Public Radio
$18 Million Penalty Hits Grocery Group That Fought GMO Labeling
This month I filed a lawsuit against agrochemical giant Monsanto. The lawsuit seeks to ensure the company will shoulder its share of the costs and responsibility for environmental damage done by chemicals it produced for decades.
Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, accumulate in the tissues of fish and other animals, including humans, and are found in bays, rivers, streams, sediment, soil and air throughout Washington. Monsanto was the sole U.S. manufacturer of PCBs.
In Washington alone, there are more than 600 suspected or confirmed contamination sites from Puget Sound to the Wenatchee River, Lake Spokane to Commencement Bay, as illustrated in the maps at right.
Internal memos show that Monsanto knew about the dangers of these chemicals, yet hid them from the public to protect its profits. As early as 1937, internal Monsanto documents warned of “systemic toxic effects” from prolonged exposure to PCB vapors. By the late 1960s, Monsanto privately cited evidence of global PCB contamination but kept that information from the public.
Another memo was more blunt, saying that “there is too much customer/market need and selfishly too much Monsanto profit” to stop making PCBs. Congress banned PCBs in 1979.
Our state’s damages and the cost to clean up these PCBs could easily reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more.
Protecting our environment is one of my highest priorities as Attorney General, and I intend to hold Monsanto accountable for its actions.
My office filed the lawsuit in 2013 against Arlene’s Flowers and its owner and operator, Barronelle Stutzman, for discrimination over the refusal to serve a same-sex couple seeking to buy wedding flowers, a service she and her business provided to opposite-sex couples.
Last year, a Benton County Superior Court judge ruled that Stutzman’s actions violated the state Consumer Protection Act. Before I filed our lawsuit, I sent a letter to Ms. Stutzman asking her to agree to stop discriminating, in which case my office would not seek fines or penalties. Ms. Stutzman declined that offer. She lost the ensuing lawsuit and pursued an appeal, which the Supreme Court heard in November.
Washington law is clear: Businesses cannot discriminate. If you serve opposite-sex partners, you must serve same-sex partners equally.
The Seattle Times
State Supreme Court hears case of florist who refused gay couple
Recently, a federal judge rejected the U.S. Department of Energy’s motion to dismiss my worker safety lawsuit on behalf of Hanford workers, and that the protections implemented since I filed the lawsuit are sufficient until a full trial is held.
Encouragingly, the dangers these workers face every day are getting more attention in the regional and national media. Click below to watch a report by the Today show’s Ronan Farrow.
Motion to dismiss Hanford lawsuit rejected by federal judge
To that end, my office updated our guide to Washington’s public records laws.
The new edition covers legislation and court rulings from the past year and includes summaries of relevant statutes, court decisions, formal Attorney General Opinions, and Public Records Act Model Rules.
I also recently spoke to the Clallam-Jefferson Pro Bono Lawyers group about our important work in Consumer Protection, Civil Rights and Campaign Finance. My presentation covered recent cases, including outcomes in our cases against Zein Automobiles, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the makers of 5-Hour ENERGY®.
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