No-on-I-522: Show us the money!!

Joel Connelly at the Seattle PI reports:

A glossy “No-on-Initiative 522″ flyer hit my Whidbey mailbox this weekend, its denunciations of “complex requirements” and “new taxpayer coss” following classic themes used by large corporate interests to defeat state ballot initiatives.

In tiny print, as required by law, a “top five contributors” to the anti-522 campaign were listed. The Grocery Manufacturers Association was tops, followed by Montsanto, DuPont Pioneer and a couple other big agribusiness interests.

The claims that I-522 is “misleading” should bring tears to your eyes, if you happen to be a crocodile.

The people leveling that accusation have mastered the art in their own campaign. (I-522 would require labeling of most genetically modified raw agricultural products, processed foods, seeds and seed stocks sold in Washington.)

The Grocery Manufactuers Association is an umbrella. It is protecting America’s biggest food companies from potential negative publicity of being associated with a controversial campaign. The companies can donate to the GMA, their lobbying group, which writes the checks to No-on-522.

As a consumer, as a citizen, a couple fundamentals govern the choices presented to me. I like to know what is in footstuffs and other products seen on shelves. And I like to know who is divying up the money to persuade me to vote one way or another.

My health is an issue in what I buy. Knowing who is bought, or what interests are seeking to buy my vote, bears on the health of my county, state and country.

The dodging of disclosure has become a high — or rather low — art of politics.

An outfit called Grassroots GPS, headquartered on New York Avenue NE. in Washington, D.C., bombarded the Whidbey mailbox in 2010 with mailings charging that Sen. Patty Murray was out of touch with this Washington.

As legally an “educational” nonprofit, however, Crossroads GPS did not have to disclose its contributors. We did learn that its two “educators” were former Bush guru Karl Rove and ex-Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie, and that its education materials were overseen by a former chief lobbyist with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Crossroads GPS was to spend $5.5 million in its effort to “educate” us into voting against Sen. Murray. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce kicked in $997,000 against the senator. Again, no sign of who was channeling dough through the Chamber.

A lot more Americans should be bothered by this.

The food industry and agribusiness spent $46 million in 2012 to narrowly defeat Prop 37, a California measure similar to I-522.. The giants of the food industry left footprints, with Pepsico giving $2.14 million to the anti-37 campaign, Coca Cola $1.45 million, Kraft foods $1.64 million, and Nestle $1.31 million.

Such names are invisble this year. Instead, it is the Grocery Manufacturers Association, with donations of $472,000, and then $1.75 million, and finally — last week — $5 million.

At $17.1 million, the No-on-522 campaign has passed the $16.9 million spent by the American Beverage Association three years ago to roll back a modest soda pop tax, enacted by the Legislature to prevent cuts in education.

The money pays for a “Shock and Awe” campaign with four predictable elements:

  • A vast TV ad campaign, in which ordinary Washingtonians (prominent Republicans in the anti-522 effort) are trotted out to give testaments. Occasionally, they are ersatz. A “family grocer” in the anti-soda pop tax ads turned out to be a veteran Hollywood actor.
  • A strategy that can be summed up by the phrase “Create Confusion, then Conquer” in which the most straightforward initiatives are labeled as “misleading” and complex” and confusing. Glossy mailings drive home the point.
  • A designated target, a campaign spokeswoman — always a woman — who sticks to the talking points and resolutely refuses to answer any and all questions about the sources of funding.
  • A claim that (name of initiative) will cost you money, or lead to “complex government regulations.”

Cynical and manipulative it may be, the strategy nearly always works. The No-on-522 campaign has added a wrinkle, using the state’s Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) law against initiative sponsors. The SLAPP was was designed to protect citizen activists against corporate legal harassment.

The visual image I have of corporate “Shock and Awe” campaigns is of a Brink’s truck followed by a laundry van driving up to a TV station. Unfortunately, what matters is not what’s true or false, but what is most often seen.

The autumn of our 2010 Senate election brought a reminder of the horse pucky I was receiving in the mail.

The Crossroads GPS mailings were bundled with other paper and plastic wastes, and taken to Island Recycling. There, at a neighboring bin, Rob and Patty Murray were unloading their disposables: The Murrays own a place on Whidbey.

It was kind of hard to accept that she was out-of-touch when we were being buzzed by the same yellow jackets.

In the case of campaigns by big corporate interests, we’re the ones who get stung.