Washington AG Bob Ferguson on Wednesday filed suit in Thurston County Superior Court, claiming the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) raised and spent campaign money to oppose Initiative 522 without identifying its contributors.
That violates campaign disclosure laws, Ferguson's office said in the suit.
The claim in the suit is that the GMA illegally collected more than $7 million while hiding who the money came from.
Those funds were spent to publicly oppose the initiative, which if passed would force companies that sell genetically engineered foods, seeds and seed products to identify those products on their labels.
A recent SR story noted that out-of-state interests on both sides of I-522 are raising large sums: It said “In this high-stakes battle, the Yes on I-522 campaign has collected more than $4.6 million in contributions and the No on I-522 campaign more than $17.1 million.”
Ferguson's press release Wednesday said: “When Washington state voters overwhelming approved Initiative 276 in 1972, they voiced their desire for transparency and openness in elections. Truly fair elections demand all sides follow the rules by disclosing who their donors are and how much they are spending to advocate their views.”
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, based Washington, D.C., represents more than 300 food, beverage and consumer product companies. It is the biggest donor to the No on I-522 campaign.
The Attorney General’s Office alleges the GMA established the “Defense of Brands Strategic Account” within its organization and asked members to pay assessments that would be used to oppose I-522. GMA then funded opposition efforts while shielding contributors’ names from public disclosure.
Ferguson alleges the GMA should have formed a separate political committee, registered with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), and filed reports indicating who contributed, how much they contributed and how the money was spent to oppose I-522.