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GMA to fight largest campaign finance penalty in U.S. history

The Grocery Manufacturers Association has vowed to correct the “injustice” of being ordered to pay $18 million — the largest campaign finance penalty in U.S. history — for violating Washington state’s campaign finance laws during its opposition of a ballot initiative related to GMO disclosure.

“GMA believes there is no basis in law or fact to support this unprecedented, inequitable and clearly excessive penalty — nearly 18 times higher than any other Washington State public disclosure fine,” said GMA in a statement.

According to the Washington State Attorney General's Office, in 2013 GMA raised over $14 million for a new “Defense of Brands” account, it said in a release. These funds came as a solicitation and were above and beyond regular member association dues.

GMA then contributed $11 million of that $14 million to “No on 522,” a ballot initiative that would have required GMO labeling but was voted down. In an effort to shield over 30 individual companies from required disclosure, the money was listed as coming from GMA, not the actual donors, such as Pepsi, Nestle and Coke, according to the Attorney General’s office.

The association contends that it was under the impression that it was in compliance with the law.

“The court’s decision ignores uncontradicted testimony and uncontroverted evidence that GMA reasonably believed, after being advised by multiple outside attorneys, that it was complying at all times with Washington State law. GMA’s decision to disclose the association itself, rather that its members, as a contributor to the ‘No on 522’ campaign in 2013 was at most an inadvertent technical violation of the State’s vague and complex disclosure law that was being handled as a routine matter by the Public Disclosure Commission until Attorney General Ferguson seized control shortly before the 2013 election to further his personal political ambitions. Attorney General Ferguson’s continuing crusade against GMA has been a centerpiece of his fundraising appeals and re-election effort. GMA intends to vigorously pursue its legal options to correct this injustice.”

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