Countersuit by out-of-state organization threatens transparency in Washington elections
OLYMPIA— Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today that he would vigorously defend the constitutionality of Washington’s campaign finance disclosure laws— and the enforcement of these laws— against a challenge filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).
On Jan. 3 in Thurston County Superior Court, the GMA answered the Attorney General’s campaign disclosure lawsuit against the GMA with a counterclaim. The organization also filed a separate civil rights complaint against Ferguson. The GMA claims Ferguson is unconstitutionally enforcing Washington’s laws and challenges the constitutionality of requiring the GMA to register a political committee before requesting and receiving contributions to oppose Initiative 522.
“After breaking our state’s campaign finance disclosure laws, the GMA now seeks to have them declared unconstitutional,” Ferguson said. “I look forward to defending transparency in Washington elections.”
Ferguson filed a lawsuit against the GMA in October 2013. The state alleges the GMA violated Washington’s campaign finance disclosure laws when it solicited and collected roughly $10.6 million from its members, placed those funds in a special “Defense of Brand” account and used them to oppose Initiative 522.
I-522 was a measure rejected by Washington voters in November. It would have required mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, seeds and seed products in this state.
In memos obtained by the Attorney General’s Office, the GMA described efforts to develop “a funding mechanism to address the GMO (genetically modified organisms) issue” while “better shielding companies from attack for providing funding.”
The $10.6 million originally concealed by the GMA makes this the largest campaign finance disclosure case in state history.
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.
In its counterclaim and civil rights suit, the GMA claims the following are unconstitutional as they have been applied in this case:
- Washington’s law requiring the GMA to file a political committee before collecting funds from its members for specific political activity in Washington;
- Washington’s law requiring the GMA to disclose the organizations who contributed to its special political fund and how much they donated; and
- Washington’s law requiring the GMA to secure $10 in donations from 10 separate registered Washington voters as part of its political committee before donating to another political committee.
The GMA also claims the requirement to secure $10 from 10 registered Washington voters before making political committee to political committee transfers is unconstitutional in all settings.
The GMA is a trade association, based in Washington DC, representing more than 300 food, beverage and consumer product companies. It was the largest single donor to the No on 522 campaign.
Additional background on the case
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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. 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
- Alison Dempsey-Hall, Deputy Comm. Director