Topic: campaign finance
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October 16, 2013 at 2:21 PM
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit today against the Grocery Manufacturers Association, alleging the group illegally collected and spent more than $7 million to oppose Initiative 522, the measure requiring labeling of genetically modified foods.
Ferguson’s lawsuit, filed in Thurston County Superior Court, said the Washington D.C.-based trade association solicited big money from its members specifically for the anti-GMO-labeling campaign, yet illegally concealed the identity of those donors from the public by failing to register and file reports as a political committee.
“In our view it’s a clear violation. It’s an important violation,” Ferguson said at a news conference in Seattle.
Ferguson said unless the GMA immediately discloses its donors, his office will ask a judge for a temporary restraining order to force the grocery association to register as a political committee and reveal its donors so that voters will have the information as they cast their ballots for or against I-522. He added the state will seek civil penalties and attorney’s fees from the group.
October 14, 2013 at 4:15 PM
But money from the biggest donor to Fair Elections Seattle itself is not transparent.
Washington Public Campaigns (WPC), a local nonprofit group, has contributed $10,000 to Fair Elections Seattle — almost one-quarter of the cash received by the campaign backing Prop. 1.
An average voter can’t tell, though, who contributes to WPC. The group is not registered as a political committee with the state and has not publicly detailed the donors behind its campaign spending.
Doesn’t that seem ironic? “Yeah, I can understand that,” said Alice Woldt, a longtime peace Seattle activist and executive director of WPC. “I guess I could’ve sent letters” to donors, Woldt said, asking donors if WPC could disclose their names. “I didn’t think of doing that.”
Donations tended to come from WPC board members such as Evelyn McChesney, according to Woldt. She also said there was a $5,000 donor whom she didn’t feel at liberty to disclose. She said donors understood that WPC would support Prop. 1.
A group like WPC doesn’t necessarily have to register with state watchdogs. There are two tests, according to Lori Anderson of the state Public Disclosure Commission. “It really boils down to whether Washington Public Campaigns gave them money they already had as opposed to raised for that specific ballot measure,” Anderson said. “The second test is whether spending money to support a ballot measure is one of their primary purposes.”
WPC’s primary purpose is not supporting Prop. 1, Woldt said. The group has goals beyond Seattle, such as reversing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case that equated corporations with people under the U.S. Constitution.
March 26, 2013 at 3:38 PM
OLYMPIA — Democrats used a state Senate committee hearing Tuesday to vent about how increasing political spending by corporations poses “a threat to our democracy.”
State Sen. Adam Kline and state Rep. Jamie Pedersen, both from Seattle, urged the Senate Government Operations Committee to adopt a measure to show support for an amendment to the United States Constitution to “return the authority to regulate election campaign contributions to congress and state legislatures.”
That authority disappeared, Kline and Pedersen said, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to remove limits on independent political spending by corporations and unions.
“I don’t want to get the violins and throwing flags and all that, but part of the reason this country was created was to institute self-governing, and this goes I think to the core of that,” Kline said. “It allows those with frankly more money to have a louder voice.”
The public testimony at the packed hearing occasionally got testy.
At one point, Chris Esh of the Washington Public Interest Research Group referred to “dark money groups” and promptly got cut off by committee chairwoman Pam Roach, R-Auburn.
Nobody spoke against the bill — one resident accidentally signed up to oppose the bill but spoke in favor of it — but the measure is no sure bet.
The symbolic bill narrowly passed the state House on a near-party line vote earlier this month. But a similar bill introduced in the state Senate never got a vote in committee.
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