By Jerry Cornfield
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson set out today to force the Grocery Manufacturing Association to disclose the source of its $7.2 million in contributions to the campaign against a food labeling initiative.
Ferguson filed a lawsuit today in Thurston County today alleging the national trade 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.
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 state Public Disclosure Commission 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.
Today’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 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.
This afternoon, GMA spokesman Brian Kennedy emailed the following statement:
“The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has been advised that the Attorney General has filed a complaint against the association related to state campaign disclosure law and the organization’s financial support of the ‘No on 522’ campaign.
“We are looking into the complaint and the specific allegations it contains. 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.
“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.”