Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson talks to reporters in 2019, during a news conference in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson talks to reporters in 2019, during a news conference in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)

Washington justices uphold $18M fine in GMO-labeling case

Big grocers funneled dark money into a campaign against genetically modified labels on food packaging.

By Gene Johnson / Associated Press

SEATTLE — The Washington Supreme Court has narrowly upheld an $18 million fine levied against an association of large food brands that funneled dark money into a state political campaign.

The 5-4 decision Thursday found that the penalty against the Grocery Manufacturers Association — now known as the Consumer Brands Association — did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on excessive fines. The association said it would petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

The group, which included companies like Coca-Cola and Nestle, in 2013 collected $14 million from its members. It then contributed $11 million of that to help defeat a Washington ballot initiative that would have required labeling of genetically engineered ingredients on food packaging.

The association failed to register as a political committee in the state, did not disclose which companies contributed the campaign money and filed no campaign-finance reports until after Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued.

As part of the lawsuit, the state uncovered evidence that one association executive noted during a meeting that having a pooled campaign account would “shield individual companies from public disclosure and possible criticism.”

“The GMA’s offense struck at the core of open elections,” Chief Justice Steven González wrote for the state Supreme Court’s majority. “The grave nature and broad extent of GMA’s offense suggests the penalty is not grossly disproportional.”

The dissenting justices, led by Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, said that the association’s failure to file campaign disclosure reports was serious for a reporting violation but that it was only a reporting violation. She called the $18 million penalty “grossly disproportionate” to that offense.

The justices previously found that the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s violations were intentional, but sent the case back to a lower court to determine whether the fine was excessive. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits excessive fines.

“This is a victory for fair and transparent elections in Washington, and a defeat of special interest dark money,” Ferguson said in a statement.

Consumer Brands general counsel Stacy Papadopoulos said in an email that the association was disappointed in the ruling.

“The state’s legal process has been tainted by partisan politics, and the ruling in this case will chill core political speech by legitimate organizations based on their viewpoints,” the statement read. “The only winner in this decision is politics — not the law, the facts or the American public.”

The GMO-labeling measure, known as Initiative 522, failed by a vote of 51% to 49%.

Talk to us

More in Local News

A Port Angeles police officer cordons off an empty lot in Sequim on Thursday as law enforcement officials investigate an incident in the area. (Michael Dashiell/Olympic Peninsula News Group)
Man arrested in Sequim, connected to homicide, has Snohomish County ties

A dead woman was found in Bret Allen Kenney’s home, police say. He previously attacked Snohomish County Jail guards.

LOCAL - MOUNTAIN LOOP HIGHWAY
HERALD STAFF PHOTO BY JENNIFER BUCHANAN
PHOTO SHOT 062208
A car makes its way through a winding unpaved section of the Mountain Loop Highway 15 miles outside of Darrington.
14-mile scenic stretch of Mountain Loop Highway opens early

The highway between Granite Falls and Darrington reopened to traffic on Friday due to good weather.

Britney Barber, owner of Everett Improv. Barber performs a shows based on cuttings from The Everett Herald. Photographed in Everett, Washington on May 16, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Cut this paper up and have a laugh at Everett Improv

The troupe’s new recurring “Boozie Newzie” show is based off clippings from The Daily Herald. Meta, dude.

HIdden River Middle School (Monroe School District)
Monroe school employee on leave for ‘racially insensitive language’

The incident took place at Hidden River Middle School. Also, police were investigating racist vandalism found at another school.

Svetlana Kravchenko appears in court for her sentencing Thursday, May 19, 2022, at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett woman gets community service in 2019 fatal hit-and-run

Svetlana Kravchenko was required to stay at the scene after hitting and killing Te Nguyen, 83. Instead, she went home.

A tiny homes program that opened in early July began with each unit claimed and a wait list of 60. Here Patrick Diller, head of community partnerships for Pallet, discusses the Pallet Shelter Pilot Project on June 29, 2021 in Everett. (Katie Hayes / Herald file)
Everett marks $2.7 million in federal funds for homeless housing

With the American Rescue Plan money, the city’s small housing program for unsheltered people could expand to three sites.

WSDOT workers open up the Smokey Point Rest Area on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Free coffee will be back soon at Smokey Point rest areas

Everett’s Silver Lake rest area for southbound I-5 drivers remains closed while WSDOT works on the facility.

Everett
Pro skateboarding competition coming to Everett in August

Street League Skateboarding’s championship tour will be at Angel of the Winds arena for two days.

Drivers heading north on Interstate 5 will take a detour from Highway 104 to 220th Street SW and back to I-5 this weekend during nightly lane closures for Sound Transit light rail work. (Sound Transit)
Light rail work closing I-5 North lanes nightly this weekend

Crews need to close northbound lanes between 220th Street SW and Highway 104. Drivers have two detour options.

Most Read