OLYMPIA — This afternoon in Thurston County Superior Court, the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) amended its lawsuit against the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). The amended complaint increases the amount the state alleges the GMA collected from its members to oppose Initiative 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.
Initiative 522 (I-522) was the measure before Washington voters on the Nov. 5 ballot requiring mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, seeds and seed products in this state. Voters rejected the measure by 51.75 percent.
The GMA is a trade association, based in Washington DC, representing more than 300 food, beverage and consumer product companies. The GMA was the largest single donor to the No on 522 campaign.
On Oct. 16, the state filed a lawsuit alleging the GMA had solicited and collected roughly $7.2 million from its members, placing these funds in a special account to be used to oppose I-522. The organization did not report these funds to the PDC at the time it collected them from its members. The GMA then spent those funds on the No on 522 campaign.
Under Washington law, the state alleges the 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 Oct. 18, two days after the AGO filed its lawsuit, the 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, the 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 the 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 AGO 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.
“Washington state voters demand transparency and openness in elections,” Ferguson said. “All sides must follow the rules by disclosing who their donors are and how much they are spending to advocate their views.”
This case will proceed on a regular trial schedule. The 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.
Based on Thurston County Superior Court rules, in February 2014 the court will announce a trial date.
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.
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The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal officer for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Janelle Guthrie, Director of Communications, (360) 586-0725
Alison Dempsey-Hall, Deputy Communications Director, (206) 641-1335