A lobbying group for major American food manufacturers has violated campaign finance laws, says state’s attorney general.
Grocers’ Lobby Faces Lawsuit Over Donors
REUTERS, October 16, 2013
A lobbying group for major American food manufacturers has violated campaign finance laws in its attempt to block a measure that would require labeling of genetically modified foods in Washington State, according to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday by the state’s attorney general.
The attorney general, Bob Ferguson, says that the group, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, illegally collected and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its contributors.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents some of the largest food and beverage companies in the world, has been heavily lobbying against ballot initiative 522, set for a public vote on Nov. 5. The measure requires labels of goods containing ingredients made from genetically engineered crops as well as labeling of genetically engineered seeds and seed products sold in the state.
“Truly fair elections demand all sides follow the rules by disclosing who their donors are and how much they are spending to advocate their views,” Mr. Ferguson said.
The association is the largest donor to a “No on I-522” campaign, and the attorney general’s office said the group set up a “Defense of Brands Strategic Account” within its organization and asked members to pay assessments that would be used to oppose the labeling initiative. The association then financed opposition efforts while shielding contributors’ names from public disclosure, the attorney general said.
The attorney general’s office said it would seek a temporary restraining order asking for a court order requiring the association to immediately comply with state disclosure laws and said it would seek civil penalties.
The group said in a statement that it was surprised by the lawsuit.
“G.M.A. takes great care to understand and comply with all state election and campaign finance laws,” the group said. “G.M.A. 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.”