During last year’s heavily moneyed campaign to defeat a Washington ballot initiative to label genetically modified foods, the Grocery Manufacturers Association was caught breaking Washington’s campaign finance laws by hiding the identities of its donors. After successfully killing the GMO labeling proposal, GMA is now arguing that those same campaign finance laws violated the lobbying group’s civil rights and should be overturned.
GMA got in trouble last fall because the group did not disclose its donors, as is required by Washington law. After being threatened with a lawsuit from the Washington Attorney General, GMA revealed that food companies including Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Kellogg, General Mills, ConAgra, Welch Foods, Land O’Lakes, and Hershey had secretly poured more than $10 million into a special fund to kill GMO labeling.
Washington AG Bob Ferguson has accused GMA of facilitating a money-laundering operation through this special fund. GMA’s internal memos obtained by the AG’s office do suggest the lobbying group was specifically trying to create “a funding mechanism to address the GMO (genetically modified organisms) issue” while “better shielding companies from attack for providing funding.”
In response, GMA is claiming in a civil rights complaint that Ferguson is unconstitutionally enforcing the law. The group also argues that the campaign finance laws, which required GMA to register a political action committee and disclose its donors, are unconstitutional.
“After breaking our state’s campaign finance disclosure laws, the GMA now seeks to have them declared unconstitutional,” Ferguson told reporters.
The association is also challenging a requirement that they must receive $10 donations from at least ten registered Washington voters as part of its PAC. While this provision may seem relatively simple, the anti-labeling campaign struggled to attract funds from actual Washington residents. Before the election, just $550 of the record-breaking $22 million raised by the No on 522 campaign came from individuals who live in Washington. The rest came primarily from the largest corporations in the processed food and chemical industries.
While fighting to overturn Washington laws, GMA is also busy lobbying for a federal GMO labeling standard that would prevent states from passing more stringent requirements. It is also seeking a federal definition that would allow products with GMOs to advertise themselves as “natural.”