August trial to determine intent, penalties
OLYMPIA — A Thurston County Superior Court judge today postponed the trial to determine whether the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s violation of Washington campaign finance disclosure laws was intentional, and what penalties it should face, to August 15. The trial, which began this morning, was quickly rescheduled when the court addressed GMA’s untimely disclosure of evidence.
Judge Anne Hirsch set a new trial date to allow the state to conduct discovery concerning the evidence GMA failed to produce prior to trial. After previously resisting disclosure of the records at issue, GMA sought to introduce them on the eve of trial. The Attorney General’s Office argued that it would be unfair to now allow the records — which concern GMA’s conversations with its lawyers about the legality of its scheme to “provide anonymity and eliminate state filing requirements” for its members — for a different purpose.
“This attempt to introduce records at the last minute, after resisting our efforts to obtain them earlier in the process, continues GMA’s pattern of trying to hide the ball from the people of Washington,” Ferguson said. “However long it takes, I am committed to holding GMA accountable for its elaborate scheme to shield its members’ contributions from the public.”
The case, State v. Grocery Manufacturers Association, concerns GMA’s financing of a 2013 campaign against Initiative 522, which sought to require labeling of genetically engineered products. GMA, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association, was the largest single donor to the “No on 522” political committee.
After finding that GMA did violate the law and granting summary judgment to the state in March, Judge Hirsch noted there remained a factual dispute whether GMA’s violation of the law was intentional. The state’s trial brief can be found here.
GMA raised $14 million from its members in solicitations for a new “Defense of Brands” account, above and beyond regular member dues. PepsiCo, for example, contributed nearly $3 million to the account, and Nestle and Coca-Cola upwards of $2 million each.
Under the law, sanctions for campaign finance disclosure violations can include a penalty equal to the amount not reported as required. If the court finds that the violation was intentional, that penalty amount can be tripled.
The court ordered GMA to cover the state’s costs associated with the dispute over the previously undisclosed evidence.
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