The Politics Blog

Grocers group says it will register as political committee after Wash AG alleges campaign finance violations

OlympianOctober 17, 2013 

One day after Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit over the financing of Initiative 522 by the food industry, the Grocery Manufacturers Association in Washington, D.C., said Thursday it will file in the state as a political committee to avoid civil prosecution. 
The state Public Disclosure Commission has not seen paperwork yet, but GMA says it also plans to file reports that identify the individual member donors that enabled it to give $7.2 million to the NO on 522 campaign.
I-522 requires package labels for consumers that identify the many food and seed products that are made using genetically modified or engineered ingredients.
The campaign is hotly contested as Washington is a bellwether state on a national issue that has popular support in polls, and in an echo of its win on a similar measure last year in California the No on 522 campaign is fighting back with about $17.2 million raised from the agribusiness and food industries. 
Here is a statement from GMA’s Brian Kennedy sent to news outlets by email Thursday afternoon:
“In the spirit of continuing cooperation and in an effort to provide Washington voters with full transparency about GMA’s funding for the “No on 522” campaign, the association has voluntarily decided to establish a Washington State political committee and to file reports with the PDC disclosing the source of all funds used in connection with Washington State elections.
“GMA is taking this action to allow the campaign to focus on the important issues related to the I-522 ballot proposal itself, and to put an end to unnecessary distraction and speculation about sources and amounts of funding. 
“GMA has cooperated fully with the Public Disclosure Commission and the Attorney General throughout their investigation, and will continue to engage state authorities in a constructive dialogue in the weeks and months ahead.”
Spokeswoman Lori Anderson of the PDC said her agency had not received filings from the GMA. We have other queries in to the Attorney General’s Office to learn if the filings would answer the AG’s complaint, which Ferguson’s lawyers prepared on behalf of the PDC.
Ferguson’s complaint identified action by the GMA to create a special account to fight state ballot measures including I-522 that would be paid for by a special assessment of member – separate from dues.
That solicitation of a special contribution appears to be a key element that put the group in legal peril under state campaign-finance laws. Internal GMO members cited by the attorney general indicated it could spend up to $10 million on this campaign.
GMA’s earlier insisted that it was complying with state campaign finance laws, while refusing to say if it had done a special assessment. 


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