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GMO activists hit with $300K fine for concealing campaign donors

No-GMO food label
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
No-GMO food label

A judge in Olympia has fined an activist group from Iowa for secretly funneling money into a Washington state election.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor ruled that Food Democracy Action! concealed $300,000 in contributions supporting a ballot measure to label genetically modified foods in 2013.

The group did not disclose the names of its donors until after the election.

While the sky's the limit on contributions to ballot measures, campaigns and political committees are required to promptly disclose where they get and how they spend their money.

Now Food Democracy Action! has to pay a fine of $322,000 plus plus attorney fees and trial costs to be determined later.

According to Washington Public Disclosure Commission filings, Food Democracy Action!'s biggest contributors were Jere Gettle of Missouri at $11,700 and Richard Clise of Camano Island at $10,000.

The ruling comes two weeks after opponents of the same ballot measure (Initiative 522) were ordered to pay a record-breaking penalty for concealing much bigger donations.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association was ordered to pay $18 million for hiding the identities of its donors aiming to fend off genetic labeling.

Million-dollar donors included household names like Pepsico, Nestle and Coca Cola. Other food-industry giants like General Mills, Conagra and Kellogg gave more than a quarter million each.

A GMA spokesperson called the earlier ruling against it an "injustice" that it intended to appeal.

The 2013 fight over labeling genetically modified foods remains the most expensive initiative campaign in Washington history. Opponents outspent supporters of the measure three to one.

Voters rejected the GMO-labeling measure by a narrow margin, 51 percent to 49 percent.

Year started with KUOW: 2009