Lefty lawyer Knoll Lowney and activists supporting the GMO-labeling initiative, I-522, got nowhere with their lawsuit alleging that the anti-522 campaign's biggest contributor, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), was illegally funneling money to the No on 522 campaign from its corporate members.
However, newly-elected Democratic Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson picked up their cause today, filing a suit of his own against the GMA.
The No on 522 campaign, which is required to register as a political committee because it was created to raise money to oppose I-522, simply lists the GMA as a big contributor (they've contributed $7 million), but voters have no way of knowing who's contributing to GMA. According to state election laws, the GMA doesn't have to register as a political committee itself and reveal its contributors because it's supposedly not raising money to explicitly oppose I-522 and has a broader primary purpose, exiting as an ongoing umbrella political group for the industry at large.
The pro-522 campaign alleged that the GMA was directly appealing to members for money to defeat I-522, which would require them to disclose those contributors to the public. AG Ferguson picked up their cause today. However, the pro-522 campaign alleged that the GMA was directly appealing to members for money to defeat I-522, which would require them to disclose those contributors to the public.
A Thurston County judge threw out the atcivists' case earlier this month—not on the merits—but on the grounds that they didn't follow the correct timing; they filed too quickly. The judge said only the Attorney General had the authority to bring a complaint on such an expedited time frame.
Alleging that the GMA funneled $7 million in bundled donations from its members to explicitly defeat the GMO labelling measure, a statement from Ferguson's office today states:
The Attorney General’s Office alleges the GMA established the “Defense of Brands Strategic Account” within its organization and asked members to pay assessments that would be used to oppose I-522. GMA then funded opposition efforts while shielding contributors’ names from public disclosure.
Ferguson alleges the GMA should have formed a separate political committee, registered with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), and filed reports indicating who contributed, how much they contributed and how the money was spent to oppose I-522.
History seems to lend credence to Ferguson's claim. In a similar campaign last year in California for GMO labeling (I-37), 42 GMA members, including Cargill, 3M, and Pepsi, had individually kicked in millions (overall, the No side spent more than $40 million beating back a potentially landmark labeling effort). And curiously, in the latest precedent-setting battle, no GMA members appear to have contributed to stop labeling this year in Washington state.
In addition to the GMA's blanket $7 million contribution, other top donors to the No on 522 campaign are: Monsanto ($4.5 million), Dupont ($3.5 million), Dow Agroscience ($560,000), and BASF PlantScience ($500,000). Overall, the No camp has raised $17 million almost exclusively from six major food science companies.
The Yes campaign has raised $5.5 million with $1.2 million coming from California-based Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, though most of the money comes from smaller local donors.