OLYMPIA – The Attorney General’s Office today provided the following update regarding the Grocery Manufacturers Association against I-522 and its compliance with state campaign finance laws. Initiative 522 is a measure before Washington voters on the Nov. 5 ballot, requiring mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, seeds and seed products in this state.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is a trade association, based in Washington DC, representing more than 300 food, beverage and consumer product companies. The GMA’s political committee is the largest single donor to the No on 522 campaign, contributing more than $11 million to date.
The original lawsuit
Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed suit against the GMA in Thurston County Superior Court on Oct. 16. That suit alleged that the GMA violated the state’s campaign disclosure laws when it collected and contributed more than $7 million to the No on 522 campaign while shielding the identities of the companies donating that money.
The Attorney General demanded that the GMA immediately comply with Washington law by registering as a political committee and filing the required disclosure reports listing its donors and amounts contributed. In the lawsuit, he requested the court find the GMA in violation of the law, set an appropriate penalty for the GMA’s failure to comply with state disclosure laws, and order the GMA to pay the state’s attorneys’ fees and other related costs.
In response to the lawsuit, the GMA registered its political committee (Grocery Manufacturers Assn. Against I-522) with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) on Oct. 18. The GMA also produced information related to a portion of its members’ contributions on that day.
The GMA filed additional reports disclosing more of its members’ contributions on Oct. 25 and Oct. 26. Lists of donors and the amounts they contributed can be found on the PDC website, here.
While the GMA registered and disclosed the required information, the state’s lawsuit continues to pursue penalties and other relief in Thurston County Superior Court for the GMA’s failure to comply with Washington state’s campaign finance laws.
New contributions to the No on 522 Campaign from GMA Against 522
Since the Attorney General’s lawsuit was filed, GMA against I-522 has reported additional contributions totaling more than $3.8 million to No on 522:
- Just over $2.9 million on Oct. 24; and
- Nearly $877,500 on Oct. 25.
The names of those who contributed more than $25 to GMA against I-522 and the amounts contributed through Oct. 21 can be found on the PDC Web site here.
Ten Washington voters contributing $10
Under Washington state law, a “political committee may make a contribution to another political committee only when the contributing political committee has received contributions of $10 or more each from at least 10 persons registered to vote in Washington state.” Washington state law does not require disclosure of the names of those who contribute less than $25.
The PDC confirmed with the GMA the requirement that GMA Against I-522 have 10 Washington state registered voters contributing $10 or more to its committee.
GMA Against I-522 confirmed its compliance with this requirement in a document and a C3 miscellaneous report filed on Oct. 28, 2013. The committee indicated it received 12 contributions in the form of pledges from registered voters in Washington by 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 23. Under state law, a “pledge” is a contribution.
GMA Against I-522 reported a total of $140 in small contributions on Oct. 28. The $140 is listed under “small contributions” on PDC’s website showing GMA against I-522’s cash contributions.
As part of the AGO’s and PDC’s inquiries, the AGO has confirmed GMA Against I-522 appears to have had the 10 requisite registered voters as contributors prior to making the $3.7 million in contributions to No on 522 on Oct. 24 and 25.
The roughly $3.8 million in contributions from GMA against I-522 to No on 522 appear have been collected by the GMA from its members prior to registering the political committee. These subsequent contributions were not reported by the GMA when it submitted its disclosure of contributor members and the value of their contributions on Oct. 18.
These contributions increase the total amount the GMA received and expended on electoral activity in Washington without timely registering as political committee and reporting the full amount of contributions collected. The AGO is preparing to amend its complaint to increase the total amount concealed from $7.2 million to $11 million.
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, if one is filed.
Based on the court rules for Thurston County Superior Court, in February 2014, the court will set the trial date for a later date.
While the GMA registered a political committee and has been filing reports, it has not admitted any wrongdoing.
Unless the case is resolved prior to trial, the Attorney General’s Office 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