In this 2016 photo, Grocery Manufacturers Association lawyer Matthew Gardner (right) talks with others, before making arguments in a case alleging that the food industry group violated state campaign disclosure laws in opposing a 2013 food labeling initiative, in Olympia. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, file)

In this 2016 photo, Grocery Manufacturers Association lawyer Matthew Gardner (right) talks with others, before making arguments in a case alleging that the food industry group violated state campaign disclosure laws in opposing a 2013 food labeling initiative, in Olympia. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, file)

Court upholds $18 million penalty in GMO labeling case

The Grocery Manufacturing Association was accused not disclosing where its contributions to the “No on 522” campaign came from.

By Andrew Hammond / The News Tribune

The Washington Court of Appeals has unanimously upheld at $18 million penalty against the Grocery Manufacturers Association in a campaign finance lawsuit brought by the state Attorney General’s Office.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit against the Grocery Manufacturers Association goes back to 2013 when the organization was accused of collecting $14 million dollars from companies such as PepsiCo and Nestle, then contributing $11 million of that money to the “No on 522” campaign without disclosing where the money came from.

The money was listed as coming from GMA, not the actual donors.

Initiative 522 was unpopular with the food industry because, if passed, it would have required that foods and agricultural products offered for retail sale state “clearly and conspicuously” on the front of the package if they were genetically engineered or contained genetically engineered ingredients.

The initiative failed with 51 percent opposition.

“Dark money has no place in Washington elections,” Ferguson said in a statement. “This decision confirms that our courts take intentional violations of our campaign finance laws seriously. My office will continue to stand up for Washingtonians’ right to know who is influencing our elections.”

Internal GMA documents obtained as a result of Ferguson’s lawsuit revealed an intentional, systematic effort to conceal the true sources of the contributions to “No on 522.”

In April, the Washington State Supreme Court affirmed that GMA’s violations were intentional and reinstated the trial court’s $18 million penalty. GMA appealed to the courts, deeming that the penalty was “too excessive.”

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