Pro-GMO Food Trade Group Sued for Campaign 'Dirty Work'

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Common Dreams

Pro-GMO Food Trade Group Sued for Campaign 'Dirty Work'

State attorney files suit against GMA for hiding donors in bid to defeat GMO labeling

by
Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

(Photo via Flickr / Steve Rhodes / Creative Commons License)

In the latest development in the ongoing fight to label GMOs in the state of Washington, State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Grocery Manufacturers Association for illegally collecting millions of dollars in their campaign against GMO labeling.

The GMA, the biggest processed food trade group in the U.S., has already set a record for the most money ever raised in Washington state to fight a public initiative—over $7 million so far—all in an effort to defeat Initiative 522, set for the ballot in November.

And that money, Ferguson argues, has been funneled through the GMA illegally.

As the Seattle Times reports, the lawsuit alleges that the GMA "solicited big money from its members specifically for the anti-GMO-labeling campaign, yet illegally concealed the identity of those donors from the public by failing to register and file reports as a political committee."

Seattle Times has more:

"GMA is now doing industry's dirty work by donating on behalf of its members and possibly violating Washington State's lobbying rules in the process." – Michele Simon, Eat Drink Politics

Ferguson said unless the GMA immediately discloses its donors, his office will ask a judge for a temporary restraining order to force the grocery association to register as a political committee and reveal its donors so that voters will have the information as they cast their ballots for or against I-522. He added the state will seek civil penalties and attorney’s fees from the group.

The state’s lawsuit cites internal GMA communications in which the group’s leaders planned their big-money effort to fight GMO labeling measures while protecting its corporate members from criticism.

In a Feb. 18 memo obtained by the Attorney General’s office, Pamela Bailey, CEO of the grocery association, discussed creating a new GMA fund, subsequently called the Defense of Brand Strategic Account, “to combat current threats and better shield individual companies from attack that provide funding for specific efforts.” That memo specifically mentioned the need “to fight Washington state’s ballot measure.”

As Michele Simon, who runs the Eat Drink Politics blog, explained earlier this week:

The main goal of a lobbying organization like GMA is to pool the massive resources of its members, which include heavy hitters such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and General Mills; each has a huge stake in this fight. While last year in California, these companies donated millions to stop Proposition 37, this year, the game plan has changed. GMA is now doing industry's dirty work by donating on behalf of its members and possibly violating Washington State's lobbying rules in the process.

“They don’t want to tell us whats in their food and they don’t want tell us who is paying for their ads,” said Delana Jones, campaign manager for the Yes on 522 campaign, adding that the GMA's campaign ads should be taken off the air until their donors are revealed.

“In our view it’s a clear violation. It’s an important violation, particularly given the size and amount of dollars that we’re talking about,” Ferguson said at a news conference in Seattle.

Earlier this month, the group Moms for Labeling lost a similar legal challenge against the No on 522 Campaign and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) for illegally concealing the identity of the campaign's donors.

In addition to losing the case, the group was fined $10,000 in a counter legal attack by the GMA.

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