OLYMPIA – The Washington attorney general is being asked to take legal action against an Iowa group that spent nearly $300,000 to help last year’s food labeling initiative campaign but did not report its donors until after the election.
The state Public Disclosure Commission referred a complaint against Food Democracy Action to the attorney general’s office after members said the PDC cannot issue a stiff enough penalty. The commission is limited to a fine of $10,000.
Food Democracy Action, described by its attorney Greg Wong as a small nonprofit based in Iowa, began raising money in July to support Initiative 522, a measure that would require most processed foods in Washington that contain genetically modified foods to note that on their label. Eventually, it formed a political action committee for Washington and over the next five months spent more than $295,000 to support I-522.
But it did not register with the PDC until Oct. 25 and did not file its first lists of contributors until Nov. 22, two weeks after the election. Its expenditure reports were not filed until Jan. 15. It faces multiple violations of failing to meet deadlines for reporting contributions and expenditures.
The group has limited staff and no experience with Washington election laws, Wong said. Food Democracy Action’s contributions were a small percentage of the more than $8 million spent on the yes campaign, he added.
But the contributions still amount to “very large dollars,” PDC attorney Linda Dalton said before commissioners voted unanimously to send the complaint to Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Ferguson already is suing Grocery Manufacturers Association, a group opposed to the initiative, for failing to follow state campaign disclosure laws.