By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — A national grocery store association is violating state campaign laws by failing to disclose the source of $7.2 million in contributions to the committee conducting the campaign against a food labeling initiative, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Wednesday.
In a lawsuit filed in Thurston County, Ferguson alleges the Grocery Manufacturing Association collected special assessments from its members for specific use in opposing Initiative 522.
He alleges leaders of the organization told members that they could keep their names secret to shield them from criticism for opposing the measure.
A spokesman for the association, Brian Kennedy, said in an email that they are looking into the complaint, but were surprised by the lawsuit.
“GMA takes great care to understand and comply with all state election and campaign finance laws and is surprised to learn that the Washington state authorities viewed the association’s actions as improper,” Kennedy said. “GMA will review its actions in Washington state and relevant statutes and continue to cooperate with state authorities to fully resolve the issue as promptly as possible.”
Wednesday’s lawsuit was triggered by a complaint filed by Karen Andonian and Moms for Labeling on Aug. 26 with the Attorney General’s Office.
That letter prompted the Public Disclosure Commission to open an investigation. Materials obtained by the PDC staff led the attorney general to act.
Ferguson contends that under state law once the organization established a separate account to fight the ballot measure, it needed to register as a political action committee and document the collection and use of those dollars. That would have forced the GMA to file regular reports with the PDC listing contributors to the effort, how much they gave and how the money was spent.
If the GMA does not act immediately to reveal the donors, the state is prepared to seek a court order to do so, he said.
Moms for Labeling registered as a political committee in late September and has reported receiving a $26,095 in-kind contribution to date. The contribution for legal services was provided by Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, which is the top contributor to the Yes on Initiative 522 campaign.