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Anti GMO labeling group concealed millions in contributions

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A food industry group that contributed heavily to defeat a measure that would have required labeling genetically engineered foods concealed millions more dollars in campaign contributions than has previously been reported, the state attorney general said Wednesday.

An amended complaint against the Grocery Manufacturers Association increases from $7.2 million to $10.6 million the amount Washington says the organization collected from members to oppose Initiative 522 without complying with the state’s campaign finance laws.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the GMA last month, accusing the group of improperly collecting the cash in a manner that shielded the identities of the companies to protect them from scrutiny. The Grocery Manufacturers Association has since identified about three dozen companies that contributed millions to help defeat I-522. PepsiCo Inc., Coca-Cola Co. and Nestle were among those that contributed.

On Oct. 16, Ferguson accused the GMA of soliciting and collecting about $7.2 million from members to be used to oppose I-522. The organization did not report those funds to the Public Disclosure Commission, Ferguson said.

Under Washington law, Ferguson said the GMA should have first formed a political action committee and followed Washington campaign finance disclosure requirements before giving the money to the No on 522 campaign. Two days after the lawsuit was filed, the GMA registered a committee and reported $7.2 million in contributions. In a statement Wednesday, Ferguson said GMA Against I-522 reported another $3.8 million in contributions in late October.

However, Ferguson said $3.4 million of that was collected before the political action committee was registered.

“Washington state voters demand transparency and openness in elections,” Ferguson said in a statement. “All sides must follow the rules by disclosing who their donors are and how much they are spending to advocate their views.”

A call seeking comment from the GMA on Wednesday evening was not immediately returned.

No court date has been set in the lawsuit. Ferguson has said the case involves concealing a record-setting amount of contributions and there must be sanctions for violating the law.

Voters earlier this month narrowly rejected I-522, which shaped up as one of the costliest initiative fights in Washington state.

Supporters said consumers had a right to know whether foods they buy contain genetically engineered ingredients and contend that GE label is no different from other food labels. Opponents argued the labeling would cost farmers and food processors and that such a label implies the food is somehow less safe.

In California last year, voters narrowly rejected a GMO-labeling measure after opponents mounted a $46 million defense.

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