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Grocery trade group ordered to pay $18 MILLION for illegally laundering money of pro-GMO donors


GMA
(NaturalNews) The Grocery Manufacturer's Association (GMA) has been ordered to pay a record-breaking $18 million fine for concealing the identity of corporate donors in a 2013 effort to defeat a GMO food-labeling initiative in Washington state.

In a 24-page ruling, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Anne Hirsch castigated the GMA for "intentionally" violating Washington campaign finance laws.

The $18 million fine was based on the tripling of a $6 million civil penalty due to the intentional nature of the violation.

In 2013, the GMA donated more than $11 million to the "No on 522" anti-GMO labeling campaign - if passed, Initiative 522 would have required labeling of GMO foods and seeds sold in Washington state.

Washington GMO-labeling initiative lost by narrow margin

The "No on 522" campaign raised a total of $22 million to defeat the initiative, which failed to pass by a narrow margin of votes. Monsanto contributed $4.5 million to the "no" campaign, but reported its own donations.

The court ruled that the GMA intentionally hid the identity of corporations including Coca-Cola, General Mills, Nestle and PepsiCo, who donated to the campaign.

From Seattlepi.com:

"What prompted the massive award? The GMA established what it called a 'defense of brands account.' It collected money to defeat the Washington initiative while shielding the identities of major food manufacturers (e.g. Pepsico, Coca-Cola, General Mills, General Foods) who were putting up millions of dollars in support."

The elaborate "defense of brands" scheme was hatched by the GMA after boycott threats were aimed at corporations who contributed to the $43 million anti-GMO labeling campaign in California in 2012.

Washington state authorities detected something fishy early on during the "No on 522" campaign:

"[Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson] announced legal action against the GMA even before the 2013 campaign ended. He charged the grocery manufacturers with violating Washington's venerable I-276, a campaign disclosure law passed by voters 40 years ago.

"Judge Hirsch had already ruled, earlier in the year, that the GMA was a political committee and obligated to disclose contributions, and that it concealed the true sources of the money it was spending against Initiative 522."


A victory against shady anti-GMO labeling campaign practices

Those who supported the GMO-labeling initiative see the ruling as a victory against shady PACs and out-of-state corporate influence.

The heavy penalty was intended to send a message to powerful trade organizations such as the GMA that campaign law violation fines will not be set low enough to simply write off as operating expenses.

The GMA, of course, would beg to differ – it will "vigorously" appeal what it views as an "unprecedented, inequitable and clearly excessive penalty."

But Judge Hirsch's ruling made it clear why the penalty was set so high - the GMA intentionally violated the right of the public to know who was contributing to the "No" campaign, its executives withheld information from its own attorneys, and the organization delayed making disclosures until the very end of the campaign.

Despite the fact that more than 90 percent of Americans favor GMO food labeling laws, anti-labeling campaigns have been very successful – largely due to the huge contributions made by those who profit from the GMO industry and their willingness to stoop to dirty tricks and shady campaign activities.

The GMA is a major juggernaut in the anti-labeling movement, representing the country's biggest food corporations, such as the above-mentioned Coca-Cola, General Foods and many others.

The GMA is heavily involved in attempts to defeat GMO-labeling initiatives at the federal and state level and its contributors' deep pockets have ensured that it wields a great deal of influence in decisive battles involving labeling.

The Washington state ruling will hopefully set an example for the nation and send the GMO industry a clear signal that such illegal and unfair political tactics will no longer be tolerated.

Sources:

Seattlepi.com

AllGov.com

SeattleTimes.com

WhiteoutPress.com
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