State fines food-labeling advocates over campaign finances

OLYMPIA — Under a settlement announced today, the campaign committee behind last fall’s food-labeling initiative must pay a $4,000 fine for not reporting until after the election thousands of dollars of assistance from other groups.

The state Public Disclosure Commission imposed the penalty on the Yes on I-522 Committee for failure to disclose nearly $118,000 of in-kind contributions made by PCC Natural Markets, Ben &Jerry’s Ice Cream and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps.

Commissioners approved the fine Thursday as part of a settlement negotiated with committee representatives.

An investigation found that the bulk of the contributions involved came from the ice cream maker in the form of $2,000 worth of free ice cream at a campaign event and $95,000 worth of ads endorsing the measure, which voters ultimately rejected.

Committee representatives said a clerical error led to the failure to report those in-kind contributions until a few days after the Nov. 5 election.

“There was no attempt at concealment,” Jim Frush, an attorney for Yes on I-522, told commissioners. “We’re very apologetic for the oversight.”

Initiative 522, which would have required labeling of foods and beverages containing genetically modified ingredients, lost by a margin of 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent.

Roughly $20 million was spent by opposing sides in the campaign. The Yes on I-522 Committee reported nearly $8 million in expenditures, of which $600,000 came from in-kind contributions.

It is still a registered political committee and will pay the fine with money left over from the campaign, Frush said. Initiative supporters reported a balance of $26,192 in campaign coffers at the end of May.

In the meantime, Attorney General Bob Ferguson is still deciding whether to pursue action against an Iowa-based political group which gave nearly $300,000 to the Yes on I-522 Committee.

Commission investigators allege Food Democracy Action! broke Washington law when it did not register as a political committee or disclose donors until after the election.

The organization provided $200,000 in cash donations and $100,000 of in-kind contributions in the course of the campaign. Its leaders eventually registered the group as a political committee and identified the donors.

The commission in April considered imposing a penalty of up to $10,000. But commissioners said the amount of money and number of violations involved merited a more severe punishment and referred the case to Ferguson.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

More in Local News

Agencies launch coordinated response to an opioid ‘emergency’

Health workers, law enforcement agencies and emergency managers are responding as they might to a disaster.

Jordan Evers distributes coffee Sunday afternoon during the annual community meal at Carl Gipson Senior Center in Everett on November 19, 2017. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Firefighters serve Thanksgiving meals at Carl Gipson center

The next two feasts at the senior center in Everett will be Thanksgiving Day and Dec. 3.

Hiker rescued on Boulder River trail after 15-foot fall

She was reported to have possible leg and rib fractures.

Alleged philanderer attacked with hammer near Everett

His girlfriend had accused him of cheating and allegedly called on another man to confront him.

Snohomish County Council passes a no-new-taxes budget

The spending plan still funds the hiring of five new sheriff’s deputies and a code enforcement officer.

Darrington School Board race might come down to a coin flip

With a one-vote difference, a single ballot in Skagit County remains to be counted.

As rain continues, Snohomish River still rising in places

Monroe and Snohomish likely won’t see the end of flood stage until Friday.

Is the state Transportation Commission irrelevant?

A report says the citizen panel often is ignored, and its duties overlap with the Transportation Department.

Most Read