OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced that his office has asked a court to rule that an out-of-state organization and its late-registered political committee illegally evaded the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws.
The case concerns Food Democracy Action!’s (FDA) financial support of a 2013 campaign supporting Initiative 522, which sought to require labeling of genetically engineered products. FDA, an Iowa-based organization, raised almost $300,000 to support the “Yes on I-522” political committee. Rather than registering as a political action committee, FDA made the contributions under its own name without disclosing the identities of its donors.
This is one of two campaign finance disclosure cases related to I-522. The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association is accused of a systematic effort to conceal the sources of $11 million in contributions to oppose I-522. That case, also brought by Ferguson’s office, awaits the judge’s decision on summary judgment.
“The crux of this case is transparency,” Ferguson said. “FDA concealed the identities of thousands of individuals who donated hundreds of thousands of dollars. I will continue to protect the public’s right to know who is funding Washington elections.”
FDA began collecting money to support I-522 in July 2013, sending several electronic newsletters to supporters encouraging them to donate to this effort. FDA made its first contribution, disclosing only its own name, to “The Yes on I-522 Committee” in August 2013. FDA ultimately sent $200,000 to the committee, representing about 2.5 percent of the committee’s total monetary contributions.
After the Attorney General’s Office received a Citizen Action Complaint in October 2013 regarding FDA’s practices, FDA registered the “Food Democracy Action! Yes on I-522 Committee to Label GMOs in Washington” political committee with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission on Nov. 13, 2013. FDA then provided the names of almost 3,100 contributors. In 2012, FDA spent $115,000 to support a similar initiative in California.
Ferguson filed a lawsuit against FDA in December 2014. The state alleged FDA violated Washington’s campaign finance disclosure laws when it solicited and collected almost $300,000 from its supporters and then contributed $200,000 of those funds to support I-522. FDA failed to disclose the true source of the contributions.
Late Friday afternoon, the state filed a Motion for Summary Judgment asking the court to rule that FDA violated the law. A court may impose penalties for campaign finance disclosure violations, including a penalty equal to the amount not reported as required. If the court finds that the violation was intentional, that penalty can be tripled.
The motion was filed in Thurston County Superior Court. A hearing on the state’s summary judgment motion is set for Friday, March 25, 2016. Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor will preside.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office 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. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov