Joel Connelly at the Seattle PI :
The latest No on 522 cash infusion, another $3.78 million channeled through the Grocery Manufacturers Association, brings to $21.1 million the war chest that food and agribusiness giants have raised to defeat Washington’s Initiative 522, which would require labeling of genetically modified foods.
A military phrase, “shock and Awe,” best describes the No on 522 campaign: Pepsico has put $2.352 million, Nestle $1.528 million and Coca Cola $1.520 million, with General Mills now at $598,819 and J.M. Smucker up to $349,977.
The companies’ contributions are known only because Attorney General Bob Ferguson took legal action to stop the money from being laundered through the Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers Association, the industry’s lobbying arm.
Why are these corporate interests spending, and until recently laundering, such enormous amounts of money?
It is to prevent the labeling movement from scoring a momentum-building victory. Stop it now. Washington is a much-watched state and bellwether for issues about to go national.
Washington has gone two ways with statewide ballot measures.
It has been on the cutting edge of social change. The state voted in 1970 to legalize abortion, more than two years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. In 2008, Washington became the second state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Then, last November, Washington was among the first three states to vote for marriage equality.
But big corporate campaigns have squelched other proposals. The aluminum industry and bottlers repeatedly turned back initiatives requiring returnable bottles. A small state income tax, targeted to the wealthy, was defeated by dollars from the wealthy.
The American Beverage Association in 2010, spent $16.9 million to roll back a modest soda pop tax, enacted by the Legislature to ease cuts in education spending. Other state legislatures were looking at the model. The beverage makers sent a message: This is what we will do to you.
The National Rifle Association, fearful of precedent, spent $5 million in 1997 to defeat an initiative that would have required trigger locks on weapons stored in households and mandated a gun-safety course for new purchasers of firearms.
Big corporate and special interest campaigns follow a pattern:
–The money comes from out of state, but the TV spots feature spokespeople from in state. After two stints as Republican state chairman, and long ago (1980-92) as state attorney general, Ken Eikenberry has found a virtual third political career filming commercials against “badly written” initiatives.
–A lot of the money comes late in the campaign. The latest anti-522 infusions — $3.78 million from the Grocery Manufacturers association, $460,000 from Dupont Pioneer — have come a week after ballots were mailed out. The state attorney general has an ongoing investigation of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, but the election may be over before disclosure of more violations of state public disclosure laws, or penalties for violations.
–Intense effort is made to shield who exactly is giving what. Until smoked out by Ferguson, a special “Defense of Brand Strategic Account” was used as a funnel for money from Pepsico, Coca-Cola, J.M. Smucker, Campbell Soup, General Mills, Kellogg, Cargill, Hillshire Brands and other big givers.
The fund was set up, according to an internal memo from the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Chief Executive Officer Pamela Bailey, “to allow for greater planning for the funds to combat current threats and better shield individual companies from attack that provide funding for specific efforts.”
Another strategy is seen incorporate-financed campaigns. The “No” or “Yes” side has a single public spokesperson, almost always a woman. Executives from the big givers — e.g. Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, and Nestle on Initiative 522 — are never heard from. The Grocery Manufacturers Association has spoken mainly in legal proceedings through blue-chip Seattle law firms.
It is possible to buy an election in Washington state. You betcha. A free-spending Costco effort dismantled the state’s monopoly on retail liquor sales. The state’s billionaires combined in a “shock and Awe” effort last year that pushed through (barely) a charter schools initiative, after previous rejections.
Almost a year has passed since the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s board directed staff to begin polling in Washington “to determine the viability of a campaign to defeat I-522.”
They’ve now put in more than $11 million. Is this big investment succeeding?
Two polls last week showed I-522 in the lead, but with the gap narrowing. The Elway Poll put the initiative ahead by a 46-42 percent margin. A SurveyUSA poll for King 5 News pegged support at 45 percent, opposition at 38 percent, with a big number of undecideds.
Initiatives are considered in trouble if pre-election polls show support at under 50 percent.