OLYMPIA — A Thurston County judge today ordered an Iowa organization and its belatedly registered political committee to pay $319,281 in penalties, plus costs and fees in Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s campaign finance disclosure lawsuit.
After a trial starting today, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor ruled that as a result of their violations of state campaign finance disclosure laws, Food Democracy Action! (FDA) must pay a $319,281 penalty (for concealment and late reporting), $2,895.16 in investigation costs, plus attorney fees and trial costs to be determined separately.
On April 22, 2016, Judge Tabor granted Ferguson’s motion for summary judgment, ruling FDA had violated Washington state law by concealing nearly $300,000 in accumulated campaign contributions. The decision is the result of a trial held today to determine penalties for these violations.
“Washington voters have a right to know who is funding their elections,” Ferguson said. “Food Democracy Action concealed the sources of hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions. I won’t tolerate violators compromising the transparency of our elections.
The case concerns FDA’s 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.
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, contributed $200,000 of those funds to support I-522, and failed to disclose the true source of the contributions. The trial court agreed.
FDA began collecting funds 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.
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, eight days after the election. FDA then provided the names of almost 3,100 contributors. In 2012, FDA spent $115,000 to support a similar initiative in California; FDA also engaged in lobbying in Connecticut and Maine in support for GMO labeling statutes.
“Once again, the PDC and the Attorney General will not hesitate to take strong enforcement action whenever there is an attempt to conceal campaign donors,” said Public Disclosure Commission Chair Anne Levinson.
This is one of two campaign finance disclosure cases related to I-522. Earlier this month, the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association was ordered to pay $18 million in penalties and damages for its systematic effort to conceal the sources of $11 million in contributions to oppose I-522. That case, also brought by Ferguson’s office, is believed to represent the largest campaign finance judgment in United States history.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Linda Dalton and Assistant Attorney General Chad Standifer led the case for the state.
Since becoming Attorney General, Attorney General Ferguson has devoted more agency resources to campaign finance casework.
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