A Thurston County Superior Court judge dismissed the pro-GMO labeling lawsuit brought by supporters of the Yes on I-522 campaign, which had claimed the 'No' camp was hiding donors.
The court awarded the 'No' campaign attorneys fees and fined the 'Yes' side $10,000 after the 'No' side filed a countercomplaint calling the Yes side's complaint a "political gambit" aimed at suppressing political speech.
The I-522 supporters had argued that the 'No' side's biggest contributor, the Grocery Manufacturers Association ($7.2 million), was specifically raising money from its members—companies such as Pepsi, 3m, and Cargill—to defeat the measure, while those contributors remained anonymous behind the GMA banner.
State law requires political committees to reveal donors, but doesn't consider the GMA a political committee because they are a general membership organization rather than a political action committee, like No on I-522, for example, that was formed specifically to raise money for a political cause.
Thurston Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham did not rule on the merits, pro-I-522 attorney Knoll Lowney said, but rather ruled that Lowney's clients did not meet proper filing procedures; plaintiffs have to wait 55 days after giving notice to file a suit, but, Lowney says, that would have defeated the purpose of having the No side reveal its donors to voters in a timely fashion.
[UPDATE: I've gotten a copy of Judge Wickham's statements in court today—the earlier written ruling was a minimalist half-page statement that simply awarded the attorney's fees to the No on 522 side and fined the Yes side $10,000. And Judge Wickham's courtroom comments confirm Lowney's account. The judge also noted he "might be able to find that the plaintiff does have that level [establish by clear and convincing evidence] of liklihood of prevailing," but added—to rule on the merits would disregard the timing issue.]
In a press release lambasting "baseless accusations," the No on I-522 campaign spokeswoman Dana Beiber said today:
“This was a frivolous and baseless lawsuit brought for no other reason than to try to generate media headlines in the heat of a political campaign. Proponents of I-522 have been making misleading claims in the media, in their advertisements and through this lawsuit. This was legal harassment, pure and simple.”
Pro-I-522 attorney Lowney said in his own statement this afternoon: “It’s a travesty that big out-of-state corporations like Monsanto are abusing our state’s law that was designed to protect citizens. This sets an incredibly scary precedent for future concerned citizens who speak out against powerful corporations who violate our public disclosure laws.” (St. Louis-based Monsanto has contributed $4.8 million to the No effort). His clients, dubbed "Mom's for Labelling," are calling on liberal state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to step in, citing the judge's comments in court today that only the AG can skip the 55-day provision and sue now.
Going into the court battle, the 'Yes' side had called the No side's countersuit ironic because the 'No' side's complaint was filed under the state's anti-SLAPP suit law—Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation was created to prevent rich interests from bullying grassroots campaigns.)
Truth be told, both sides have raised millions of dollars; though the 'No' side, supported almost entirely by six large corporate food interests, including the GMA, has raised much more ($17.2 million to $4.2 million. The 'Yes' campaign has thousands of small donors, though their contributors list does include one large out-of-state corporate donor, California-based Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, at $1.7 million.