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Attorney General Ferguson files suit against Grocery Manufacturers Association over contribution to I-522

Attorney General Bob Ferguson today filed suit in Thurston County Superior Court alleging that the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) violated the state’s campaign disclosure laws.  Ferguson alleges the GMA illegally collected and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its contributors.  The funds were spent to express opposition to Initiative 522, a measure requiring labeling of genetically engineered foods, seeds and seed products in Washington.

“When Washington state voters overwhelming approved Initiative 276 in 1972, they voiced their desire for transparency and openness in elections,” Ferguson said. “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 is a trade association, based in Washington DC, representing 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.

The AGO filed suit in Thurston County Superior Court to compel the GMA to register with the PDC and file disclosure statements.

The AGO is preparing to seek a temporary restraining order asking the court to order the GMA to immediately comply with state disclosure laws.

The AGO is also requesting civil penalties and costs of investigation and trial, including reasonable attorney’s fees, injunctive relief and any other relief the court deems appropriate.

The suit stemmed from a citizen action letter received by the Attorney General’s Office in late August. Upon receipt of the letter, the office immediately referred the case to the PDC for investigation.  Working closely with the PDC, the Attorney General’s Office reviewed information provided to the PDC during its investigation and determined there was sufficient evidence to file a court action.

The complaint can be found, here.

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