Food-makers fight record fine in Washington GMO case
The GMO labeling fight is back in the news this week. If you remember, in 2016 The Grocery Manufacturers Association was ordered to pay $18 million for violating campaign-finance laws to conceal the identities of corporations that poured $11 million into defeating a 2013 food-labeling initiative in Washington.
Now the trade group representing manufacturers has asked the Washington Supreme Court to overturn the fine against the food industry for making anonymous donations.
A trade group representing manufacturers has asked the Washington Supreme Court to overturn a record fine against the food industry for making anonymous donations to defeat a GMO-labeling initiative in 2013.
In an amicus brief filed last week, the National Association of Manufacturers argues lower courts were insensitive to internet-fueled reprisals that businesses face.
By funneling campaign contributions through an umbrella organization, food-makers preserved their right to band together and take political stands, according to the manufacturers.
“Without anonymity, speakers face boycotts, harassment, and even threats of violence, all for engaging in activity at the heart of the First Amendment’s protection,” the amicus brief states.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments Oct. 22 in Olympia on whether the Grocery Manufacturers Association violated the state’s election law by not naming the companies that spent $11 million to defeat the initiative.
The association collected the money and reported itself as the donor. Under pressure from state regulators, the association disclosed shortly before the election that the money came from brand-name companies such as PepsiCo, Nestle USA, Coca-Cola, General Mills and ConAgra Foods. The initiative was narrowly defeated.
The court also will decide whether to uphold the largest-ever fine levied in the U.S. for a campaign finance violation. An appeals court reduced the fine to $6 million from $18 million, but it still far exceeds any other election-law penalty.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson is seeking to restore the $18 million fine. The grocery association intentionally tried to deceive voters, his office argues. The grocery association argues it thought it was complying with Washington law.