PhotoIt's bad enough to spend a lot of money trying to throw an election your way. It's even worse to get in trouble with the law after you spend all the money and lose the election anyway.

That's the sorry state of affairs that the Grocery Manufacturers Association may be facing. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson today sued the GMA, claiming it violated the state's campaign disclosure laws.

The way Ferguson sees it, the GMA illegally collected and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its contributors, hoping to defeat Initiative 522, a measure requiring labeling of genetically engineered foods, seeds and seed products in Washington.

“When Washington state voters overwhelming approved Initiative 276 in 1972, they voiced their desire for transparency and openness in elections,” Ferguson said. “Truly fair elections demand all sides follow the rules by disclosing who their donors are and how much they are spending to advocate their views.”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association is a trade association, based in -- where else? -- Washington D.C., representing more than 300 food, beverage and consumer product companies. It was the biggest donor to the "No on I-522" campaign.

Actually, the GMA hasn't lost the election yet, since it's not until next month. But all the polls show the measure is likely to pass, with an overwhelming two-thirds of Washington State voters saying they plan to support it. 

Shook down its members

The GMA website
Ferguson alleges the GMA established the “Defense of Brands Strategic Account” within its organization and asked members to pay assessments that would be used to oppose I-522. GMA then funded opposition efforts while shielding contributors’ names from public disclosure.

Ferguson alleges the GMA should have formed a separate political committee, registered with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), and filed reports indicating who contributed, how much they contributed and how the money was spent to oppose I-522. 

What next?

If the measure passes as expected, Washington will be the first state in the nation to require labeling of genetically-modified food. There are two ways to look at what's likely to happen next:

1. Food producers will shrug and say, oh well, we might as well start labeling the stuff everywhere rather than have to worry about producing separate labels for different states.

2. Or, the GMA and its allies may dig in their heels and say, in effect, to hell with the states, then jump in a cab and head for Capitol Hill, which now provides easy one-stop shopping for lobbyists who don't want to get all tired and dusty traipsing around the hinterlands trying to sway local lawmakers.

Major industries have had great luck in recent years getting their pals in Congress to pass legislation that protects industry's interests and pre-empts those pesky state laws.

After all, not everybody hates D.C. Lobbyists love the place.  

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