Joel Connelly at the Seattle PI reports:
The Grocery Manufacturers Association has dumped another $5 million into the campaign against Washington’s Initiative 522, bringing the agribusiness and food industry-financed warchest against the ballot initiative to a staggering $17.168 million.
With a month to go until the election, the anti-522 campaign has now surpassed the $16.9 million spent by the American Beverage Association three years ago to roll back a small soda pop tax that had been voted by the Legislature. The tax was designed to stave off cuts to education, and the ABA didn’t want other states to get similar ideas.
Initiative 522 would require that most raw agricultural commodities, processed foods plus seed and seed stocks produced using genetic engineering be labeled when offered for retail sale in Washington.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association stands accused in a state court suit of laundering money for major food producers who do not want their names associated with the campaign.to defeat the labeling measure.
In 2012, agribusiness and major food manufacturers spent $46 million to narrowly defeat a similar measure in California. Several food industry giants gave big bucks to beat it, including Pepsico ($2.14 million), Coca Cola ($1.45 million), Kraft Foods ($1.64 million), Nestle ($1.31 million) and soup makers Heinz and Campbell ($500,000 apiece).
But those corporate names are absent from this year’s anti-522 campaign just up the coast.
Instead, the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association has done a special appeal and served as an umbrella group for donations. It put in $472,000 on May 8, and poured in $1.75 million on September 23rd.
Big agribusiness is not so reticent. Montsanto has given $4.592 million to No on 522. Dupont Pioneer has donated $3.248 million. Bayer Crop Science is in for $562,000, and Dow Agrisciences has given $562,000. BASF Plant Sciences last week gave $500,000.
The result is that the pro-522 campaign, while having raised a respectable $4.62 million, stands at the moment to be outspent by a margin of nearly four-to-one. The pro-labeling campaign spent $19 million in California, but found itself outspent by a better than two-to-one margin.
The No-on-522 campaign has brought in the nation’s premier hired gun to oversee the campaign. The Beverly Hills firm of Winner & Mandabach worked in the California campaign, and has been both promoting and fighting state initiative campaigns — almost always on the side of big industry — for more than 30 years.
The firm, as Winner Wagner & Mandabach, gained initial prominence in the late 1970′s and early 1980′s by defeating a series of ballot measures designed to curb the growth of nuclear power.
Its first defeat came with Washington’s 1981 “WPPSS Initiative.” I-394 sought to curb soaring costs of the Washington Public Power Supply System’s nuclear construction program by requiring that customers of public utility districts vote to approve the issuing of bonds.
Nuclear contractors and Wall Street brokerage houses spent $1.2 million — a kingly sum at the time — to defeat it. But the measure passed on election day with 58 percent of the vote. There was a memorable election night encounter between firm principal Chuck Winner and Seattle Post Intelligencer columnist Shelby Scates. The P-I had done extensive investigations into WPPSS cost overruns.
With the anti-522 campaign pouring money into TV ads — featuring prominent Republicans playing the role of ordinary citizens — the pro-labeling forces have produced prominent endorsements.
Nationally renowned food safety attorney Bill Marler has backed the labeling initiative. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream co-founder Jerry Greenfield gave out free ice cream and pro-522 literature during a summer visit.