Holding the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association accountable
A Thurston County Superior Court judge already ruled that the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association violated Washington State campaign finance laws in its bid to defeat 2013’s GMO-labeling Initiative 522. The court is now considering whether the Association’s illegal conduct was intentional.
That determination will have significant bearing on the penalties the organization will pay. If the court rules that Association’s conduct was intentional, the penalties can be tripled.
In 2013, the Association raised $14 million from its members in solicitations for a new “Defense of Brands” account, above and beyond regular member dues. PepsiCo, for example, contributed nearly $3 million to the account, and Nestle and Coca-Cola upwards of $2 million each.
The Association then donated $11 million of the $14 million to the “No on 522” campaign. As a result, the money was listed as coming from Association, not the actual donors.
I’ve argued all along that the association knew what it was doing. Internal documents obtained during my office’s investigation reveal what we believe is an intentional effort to bypass campaign finance disclosure laws. Meeting minutes were uncovered where executives specifically discuss creating the “Defense of Brands” account so that “GMO related spending will be identified as having come from GMA, which will provide anonymity and eliminate state filing requirements for contributing members.”
Under the law, sanctions for campaign finance disclosure violations can include a penalty equal to the amount of money not reported. If the court finds that the violation was intentional, that penalty can be tripled.
This landmark case has been a long fight for accountability. The message from my office is clear: I will not allow big money donors to hide from public scrutiny. I will continue to fight to hold them accountable.