The hotly contested battle over GMO labeling just got hotter in Washington state. The latest wrinkle comes just a few weeks before November 5, when voters decide on I-522, the ballot initiative that would mandate labels on all genetically modified food sold in grocery stores.
Opposition has been fierce; the No on 522 campaign has raised $17.2 million, a record for monies raised against a statewide initiative, according to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission. From the opposing war chest, $7.2 million came from the Grocers Manufacturers Association (GMA), a Washington, D.C.-based trade association representing hundreds of food and beverage companies. But unlike the GMA-funded opposition to Prop 37, a similar initiative in California last year, the GMA-funded opposition to I-522 has been a mystery–until now.
On Wednesday, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed suit against GMA for failure to disclose the source of its massive contribution, alleging illegal collection and expenditure under a 1972 campaign disclosure law. “When Washington state voters overwhelming approved Initiative 276 in 1972, they voiced their desire for transparency and openness in elections,” Ferguson said in a press release. As part of the suit, the attorney general asked GMA to form a political committee registered with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission and file reports of contribution amounts and sources.
By Friday, GMA had registered the Grocery Manufacturers Association Against I-522, a newly formed political committee, and disclosed both names of contributors and amounts, which are now publicly available. There are 34 GMA member companies on the list, covering the gamut of processed and packaged food brands, from Campbell Soup ($265,000) to Ocean Spray Cranberries ($55, 313), Bumble Bee Tuna ($36,000) to Del Monte canned goods ($86,576). Top contributors include PepsiCo, Inc. ($1.6 million); its soft drink rival The Coca-Cola Company ($1 million) and Nestle USA, Inc. ($1 million).
In contrast, the Yes522 campaign has raised about $6 million to date. More than 2,000 donors have given $50 or less.