The Politics Blog

Attorney General Bob Ferguson says concealment by No on 522’s biggest donor may be $11 million

OlympianOctober 30, 2013 

Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson put out a status report on his ongoing legal fight with the Grocery Manufacturers Association over its contributions to the No on 522 campaign. Initiative 522 calls for mandatory, front-of-package labels on many foods and seed products produced using genetic engineering or genetically modified ingredients. 

With its $3.78 million in new contributions late last week, the Grocery Manufacturers Association has given more than $11 million to the NO on 522 campaign – or half the $22 million the No on 522 PAC has collected. The food industry opposes mandatory labeling in Washington and other states after a $46 million campaign last year to defeat a similar California measure.

Ferguson’s status report linked here  says it is not clear that the $3.78 million contributed by GMA last week was legal. His report says:

The $3.7 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.

The No on 522 campaign has now raised more than $22 million – a record for any campaign committee. Raising the stakes, some labeling advocates think passage of I-522 on Nov. 5 could aid efforts to pass a labeling law in Congress.

With more than $6.1 million raised by various labeling pro-labeling PACs including Yes on 522 advocates, the total raised by both sides is getting close to the record of $32.47 million spent on all sides two years ago in the liquor privatization fight.

The Yes on 522 campaign, which is funded heavily by out-of-state natural foods groups, contends No on 522 is trying to buy the election. But the Louis Finkel, executive vice president of government affairs for the GMA in Washington, D.C., rejects that claim.

Finkel said in a statement this week:

“The proponents of the measure have attempted to use fear and misinformation to convince voters that they should be concerned about ingredients derived from a technology every major scientific group in the world has deemed safe.  GMA’s contributions to the campaign have been to help ensure that the No on 522 campaign has the resources necessary to refute these false claims and inform voters about this costly and confusing measure.  We are confident that Washington voters are perfectly capable of making informed decisions when provided with all the facts.

“We stand with the broad coalition of farmers, doctors, and scientists that oppose I-522, as well as the leading statewide newspaper editorial boards, including the Olympian, that have all urged a NO vote on I-522.”

GMA did not immediately comment on Ferguson's latest statements. But the association put out this statement after the AG’s lawsuit was filed.

Ferguson sued on Oct. 16 to demand the GMA register as a PAC and disclose all the individual companies that provided money for its first $7.2 million in contributions to No on 522. He also is seeking penalties against the trade group.

But Fergson has acknowledged that the more than 300 member grocery makers group has since registered as a PAC and reported the individual member donors giving to the campaign fund. In its status report statements, the AG’s Office also says the GMA PAC met a legal requirement to collect contributions or pledges of at least $10 from at least 10 Washington residents – although the identity of those donors does not appear to be made public.

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