Just a few weeks ago, attorneys for the No on 522 campaign were feeling rather smug when a lawsuit filed against them by a group called “Moms for Labeling” was dismissed. As I wrote last week, consumer class action attorney Knoll Lowney sued the No on 522 and the Washington DC-based Grocery Manufactures Association (lobbyists for major food corporations) for not disclosing the donors behind GMA’s $7 million-plus donations to stop I-522, which would require genetically-engineered foods to be labeled. The judge threw out that case on a technicality.
But then, Big Food’s arrogance got the best of them.
Last Wednesday, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson picked up where the Moms for Labeling lawyer left off by filing his own complaint, which adds stunning detail to the allegations in the original suit. In case you’re not familiar with what the attorney general does, he or she is the state’s top law enforcer, but often has limited resources to act. So when the AG’s office decides to come after you, it’s a very big deal, far bigger than a private attorney doing so.
The new lawsuit also accuses GMA of violating the state’s campaign disclosure laws, and alleges that the trade group secretly gathered more than $7 million from its members. Not content to just collect food industry money illegally, or even discreetly, GMA had the chutzpah to a designate a special account dubbed the “Defense of Brand Strategic Account,” for a strategic, “multi-pronged approach” to fight labeling laws, including Washington’s I-522.
And this scheme didn’t just pop up recently either; rather the shady deal-making was in the works for months, soon after the narrow loss of Proposition 37 in California. The plan was hatched at a GMA board meeting this past January to fund future anti-labeling efforts with “a preference for GMA to be the funder of such efforts, rather than individual companies.” That’s because brand names like PepsiCo and General Mills took a lot of heat from upset consumers. So, as GMA CEO Pamela G. Bailey explained in a February memorandum, a plan to “better shield individual companies from attack” was quickly approved; GMA sent its first round of invoices to members by March and the second round went out in August.
The dollar figures are staggering:
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