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Washington state supreme court upholds $18 million fine for campaign finance violations by large food brands

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson called the decision a victory for Washington taxpayers.

SEATTLE — The Washington State Supreme Court has narrowly upheld an $18 million fine against an association of large food brands that funneled dark money into a state political campaign. 

The 5-4 decision Thursday found that the penalty against the Grocery Manufacturers Association — which is now known as the Consumer Brands Association — did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s excessive fines ban. 

The group in 2013 contributed $11 million to help defeat a ballot initiative that would have required labeling of genetically engineered ingredients on food packaging. The high court previously upheld a ruling that the organization's failure to disclose which companies contributed the money was an intentional campaign finance violation.

"Because we value in our state, transparency in our elections. You want to spend money on an election? That's ok. You can do that if you're a big corporation, but guess what? The voters made it clear through the initiative process in Washington state, you have to disclose who's paying for those ads you see on TV," Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. 

Ferguson said companies not only ignored the law but set out to purposely conceal their campaign contributions from Washington residents.

"I think we can all agree that people have the right to know what's in their food, the right to make an informed choice about what they're feeding their families," said Hans Eisenbeis with the Non-GMO Project. "From our perspective again if major food companies are proud of using GMO's they shouldn't be afraid of GMO labeling."