During the 2013 ballot campaign to label genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Washington State, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) resorted to an illegal money-laundering scheme to protect the identity of members who donated funds to the opposing campaign.
Several major food companies had experienced major backlash from consumers who felt betrayed when their contributions to the 2012 anti-labeling campaign in California came to light.
Those donating to the Washington campaign certainly wanted to avoid the same fate. Fortunately, their scheme did not go unnoticed.
On October 16, 2013, Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed suit against the GMA on behalf of the State of Washington, alleging the association had violated the state's campaign disclosure laws — both by failing to register a political committee, and by concealing the true source of its campaign funds.
According to Ferguson, the GMA began plotting and planning how to best defeat Initiative 522 back in December of 2012, placing particular emphasis on the establishment of a separate GMA fund to "combat current threats and better shield individual companies from attack."
Internal Records Reveal Intent to Lie and Conceal
The Attorney General's Office recently announced1 that documents related to the lawsuit have now been unsealed. This includes internal GMA memos and documents detailing the association's "systematic effort to conceal the sources of $11 million in contributions to oppose Initiative 522."
The GMA even provided "media guidance" to members about how to lie when confronted about their contributions to the anti-labeling campaign. According to the Attorney General's press release:
"Regarding possible questions on their 'position on the ballot initiative' or their 'financial support,' GMA suggested the following:
'Q: Is your company providing funding to the 'No on I-522' campaign in Washington State?
A: No. Company X is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association and supports the work the association does on product safety, health and wellbeing, sustainability and a host of other issues.
We support GMA, and its position on genetically modified ingredients and the association's opposition to I-522 in Washington State. GMA's views and financial support for the 'No on I-522' campaign reflect the views of most food and beverage manufacturers in the United States.'
GMA rejected an initial draft statement where members would say that GMA 'uses the funds at our discretion,' finding that it 'will lead the press and or NGO groups right where we don't want them to go — meaning, 'are you assessing you [sic] members, or do you have a 'secret' fund of some kind.'"