Countersuit by out-of-state organization threatens transparency in Washington elections
Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today that he would vigorously
defend the constitutionality of Washington’s campaign finance disclosure
laws— and the enforcement of these laws— against a challenge filed by
the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).
On Jan. 3 in
Thurston County Superior Court, the GMA answered the Attorney General’s
campaign disclosure lawsuit against the GMA with a counterclaim. The
organization also filed a separate civil rights complaint against
Ferguson. The GMA claims Ferguson is unconstitutionally enforcing
Washington’s laws and challenges the constitutionality of requiring the
GMA to register a political committee before requesting and receiving
contributions to oppose Initiative 522.
“After breaking our
state’s campaign finance disclosure laws, the GMA now seeks to have them
declared unconstitutional,” Ferguson said. “I look forward to defending
transparency in Washington elections.”
Ferguson filed a lawsuit
against the GMA in October 2013. The state alleges the GMA violated
Washington’s campaign finance disclosure laws when it solicited and
collected roughly $10.6 million from its members, placed those funds in a special “Defense of Brand” account and used them to oppose Initiative 522.
was a measure rejected by Washington voters in November. It would have
required mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods, seeds and
seed products in this state.
In memos obtained by the Attorney
General’s Office, the GMA described efforts to develop “a funding
mechanism to address the GMO (genetically modified organisms) issue”
while “better shielding companies from attack for providing funding.”
The $10.6 million originally concealed by the GMA makes this the largest campaign finance disclosure case in state history.
Washington law, the state alleges the GMA should have first formed a
political committee, registered it in Washington and followed Washington
campaign finance disclosure requirements before contributing the money
to the No on 522 campaign.
In its counterclaim and civil rights
suit, the GMA claims the following are unconstitutional as they have
been applied in this case:
- Washington’s law requiring the
GMA to file a political committee before collecting funds from its
members for specific political activity in Washington;
law requiring the GMA to disclose the organizations who contributed to
its special political fund and how much they donated; and
law requiring the GMA to secure $10 in donations from 10 separate
registered Washington voters as part of its political committee before
donating to another political committee.
GMA also claims the requirement to secure $10 from 10 registered
Washington voters before making political committee to political
committee transfers is unconstitutional in all settings.
is a trade association, based in Washington DC, representing more than
300 food, beverage and consumer product companies. It was the largest
single donor to the No on 522 campaign.
Additional background on the case
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Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state
of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state
providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and
commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect
consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect
our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to
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