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The New York Times this morning reports that Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed suit against the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), charging that the trade association "illegally collected and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its contributors," an effort that would be in violation of campaign finance laws.

The campaign in question is GMA's quest to defeat a ballot initiative in Washington that would mandate the labeling of products that contain genetically modified ingredients.

According to the story, GMA "is the largest donor to a 'No on I-522' campaign, and the attorney general’s office said the group set up a 'Defense of Brands Strategic Account' within its organization and asked members to pay assessments that would be used to oppose the labeling initiative. The association then financed opposition efforts while shielding contributors’ names from public disclosure, the attorney general said.

"The attorney general’s office said it would seek a temporary restraining order asking for a court order requiring the association to immediately comply with state disclosure laws and said it would seek civil penalties."

“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,” Ferguson tells the Times.

GMA responded to the suit by saying it was surprised, adding that it takes care to comply with all election and campaign finance laws.
KC's View:
Give me a break.

GMA could not have been too surprised.

After all, last month it was sued by Moms for Labeling, a nonprofit group that is supporting the pro-labeling initiative, for exactly the same thing. So it is not like this is the first time the whole campaign finance issue has been brought up.

As we noted at the time, Washington state law requires that an organization register as a political committee if it raises money to support or oppose a particular ballot measure, and then must list all donors who contribute more than $25 to a cause. Such transparency is not required if money is spent from a general fund, but both suits charge that GMA was specific and purposeful in setting up an account specifically designed to defeat the referendum.

I'll let it to the court system to decide whether GMA was technically in violation of the law with its contributions. That said, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the one thing GFMA did not want in this case was transparency ... in the same way that pretty much all lobbying and special interest groups - not to mention the political figures and parties that accept their money - do not want transparency.

I'm sick and tired of the whole thing. And it is the kind of attitude and process that, to my mind, undermines the notion of democracy. And no, I don't think I am overstating or dramatizing the situation. I think the influence of so much money being thrown around within the political process in general is poisoning the system, but the influence of hidden money - spent in the shadows, without a spotlight being trained on who is spending the money and why, is positively toxic.

It is a crock.