Afternoon Jolt

Labeling Donations

THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED: I-522 campaign wants transparency on food labeling and political contributions.

By Josh Feit September 19, 2013

 Editor's Note: This story was originally published on Tuesday, September 17th at 3:00, but due to the problems we've been having with comments, much of the thread didn't register on our system until today. We are re-publishing the post today so the updated comments thread gets the attention it deserves. 

Winner: I-522 Supporters

Supporters of the I-522 campaign for GMO labeling took the anti-522 camp to Thurston County Superior Court today complaining that No on 522 was breaking Washington state public disclosure laws.

One of the No campaign's big donors is the Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers Association; the GMA has contributed $2.2 million, making them one of the No campaign's top five donors—along with Monsanto, DuPont, Bayer, and Dow. However, state election rules requires political committees to reveal their own donors so that voters can tell who's behind political contributions from generic-sounding groups, such as the GMA, that are helping fund initiatives.

The GMA is the lobbying group for the food industry, but that doesn't necessarily make them a "political committee." To be considered a political committee by the state, an organization has to specifically solicit money to influence an election or exist primarily to influence an election. But the GMA is already a membership group whose primary purpose isn't I-522.

However, in its complaint, the pro-522 activists contend, through whistleblower sources, that the GMA specifically appealed to members to contribute to the No campaign. The complaint states: "The Grocery Manufacturers Association has made a special appeal to its members in the form of a voluntary special assessment, to fund the No on 522 Campaign."

According to state rules, if that's true, that would make the GMA a political committee.

The pro-522 campaign wants the GMA to name names (or, I guess, properly label their donors), and they have reason to be suspicious that the GMA is shielding the actual donors: In a similar campaign last year in California for GMO labeling (I-37), 42 GMA members had individually kicked in $13 million at this point in the campaign (overall, the No side spent more than $40 million beating back a potentially landmark labeling effort). Curiously, in the latest precedent-setting battle, no GMA members appear to have contributed to stop labeling this year in Washington state.

Today, the judge said depositions could go forward, allowing the pro-labeling campaign's lawyers to depose the GMA and the anti-522 campaign to ask whose money is behind the GMA's $2.2 million. Knoll Lowney, the attorney for the pro-labeling campaign, says he may question the GMA officials as early as next week. 

State election law also requires that campaign's list their top five donors in TV ads. The No campaign hit with four TV spots yesterday and the GMA is listed as one of the No campaign's top five contributors. It's more likely, though, that one of the big contributors to the GMA (say Cargill, 3M, or Pepsi), should be listed. (In potentially related news—as we reported in "Isn't It Weird That" last month—the GMA website started hiding its membership page from the public after it started contributing to the No on 522 campaign.)

The Yes on 522 campaign is considering seeking an injunction on the TV ads.

The Yes campaign has raised about $3.6 million so far. The No side has raised about $11 million. 

We have a call out to the No campaign.

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