The Washington Supreme Court has narrowly upheld an $18 million fine imposed on an association of major food brands that funneled black money into a state political campaign.
Thursday’s 5-4 decision found that the penalty imposed on the Grocery Manufacturers Association – now known as the Consumer Brands Association – did not violate the US Constitution’s prohibition against excessive fines. The association said it would ask the US Supreme Court to reconsider the case.
The group, which included companies like Coca-Cola and Nestlé, in 2013 raised $14 million from its members. He then donated $11 million of that sum to help defeat a Washington state ballot initiative that would have required the labeling of genetically modified ingredients on food packaging.
The association failed to register as a political committee in the state, did not disclose which companies contributed campaign money, and did not file any campaign finance reports before that Attorney General Bob Ferguson does not prosecute.
As part of the lawsuit, the state uncovered evidence that an association executive noted in a meeting that having a joint campaign account would “protect individual businesses from public disclosure and abuse.” ‘possible criticisms’.
“The GMA offense struck at the heart of the open election,” Chief Justice Steven González wrote for the state Supreme Court majority. “The gravity and extent of GMA’s breach suggests that the penalty is not grossly disproportionate.”
The dissenting justices, led by Judge Sheryl Gordon McCloud, said the association’s failure to file campaign disclosure reports was serious for a reporting violation, but it was only a violation reporting. She called the $18 million penalty “grossly disproportionate” to that offense.
Judges previously found the Grocery Manufacturers Association violations were intentional, but referred the case to a lower court to determine whether the fine was excessive. The 8th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits excessive fines.
“This is a victory for fair and transparent elections in Washington, and a defeat for black special interest money,” Ferguson said in a statement.
Consumer Brands General Counsel Stacy Papadopoulos said in an email that the association was disappointed with the decision.
“The state’s legal process has been tainted by partisan politics, and the decision in this case will chill the grassroots political discourse of legitimate organizations based on their views,” the statement said. “The only winner in this decision is politics – not the law, the facts, or the American public.”
The GMO labeling measure, known as Initiative 522, failed by a vote of 51% to 49%.