OLYMPIA – Internal documents and memos from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) allegedly detail the association’s efforts to conceal the source of $11 million in contributions used to oppose an initiative aimed at labeling food products containing bioengineered ingredients.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced his office had reached an agreement with the GMA to unseal documents related to a campaign finance lawsuit against the association. The state alleges that GMA sent communications detailing how to establish a fund so the association could shield donor contributions toward opposing I-522. 

Bob Ferguson
Bob Ferguson, Washington state Attorney General

“GMA engaged in an elaborate scheme to unlawfully shield its members’ contributions from public scrutiny,” Ferguson said. “They need to be held accountable.”

 The case, State v. Grocery Manufacturers Association, stems from GMA’s financing of a 2013 campaign against Initiative 522 (I-522), which sought to require companies to label bioengineered products. GMA was the largest single donor to the “No on 522” political committee, according to the attorney general's office. Ferguson filed the lawsuit against GMA in October 2013.

But GMA counter-sued, alleging the state had unconstitutionally enforced campaign finance laws against the association and asked the judge to dismiss the case.  The Washington, DC-based GMA has argued that 70 percent to 80 percent of the foods eaten in the United States contain bioengineered ingredients. Additionally, the US Food and Drug Administration, the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, Health Canada, the US Dept. of Agriculture and the National Academy of Sciences have found that bioengineered food ingredients are safe and that no negative health effects are associated with their use.

In June 2014, a Thurston County Superior Court judge rejected GMA’s motion to dismiss and allowed the state to proceed with its case against the association. The state is seeking a summary judgment in its favor in addition to “a substantial penalty”, costs and attorneys’ fees.