SEATTLE — Washington’s attorney general accused a food industry group Wednesday of violating state campaign finance laws for how it collected and spent more than $7 million to oppose a food labeling initiative.
The office of Attorney General Bob Ferguson said it was moving quickly to seek a temporary restraining order, hoping that the Grocery Manufacturers Association would soon disclose who contributed to the cause as voters prepare to cast their ballots. Some parts of the food industry have been working to defeat Initiative 522 that would require labeling on genetically modified foods.
Much of the money used in the campaign to oppose I-522 has come from the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Ferguson said the association improperly established a special account that was used to collect money from the industry and used to oppose the initiative. Ferguson said the organization should have formed a separate political committee that would require increased disclosure.
Ferguson said the association explicitly attempted to shield members from scrutiny for opposing the initiative.
“This is precisely the conduct our campaign disclosure laws are designed to prevent,” Ferguson said. Ferguson said the case could lead to a significant fine.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a statement that it was surprised to learn that state officials viewed the association’s actions as improper. The group said it takes great care to understand and comply with all state election and campaign finance laws.
“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,” the organization said.
Voters will decide on I-522 next month in what has shaped up to be one of the costliest initiative fights ever in Washington state.
Supporters say consumers have a right to know whether foods they buy contain genetically engineered ingredients and contend that GE label is no different from other food labels. Opponents say it would cost farmers and food processors and that such a label implies the food is somehow less safe.
In California last year, voters narrowly rejected a GMO-labeling measure after opponents mounted a $46 million defense.