Bryan Cohen Oct. 17, 2013, 7:30pm

SEATTLE (Legal Newsline) -- Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Grocery Manufacturers Association for allegedly violating state campaign disclosure laws when opposing Initiative 522.

GMA allegedly engaged in the illegal collection and spending of more than $7 million while hiding the identity of its contributors.

The funds were spent to express opposition against Initiative 522, a measure that would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods, seed products and seeds in the state.

"When Washington state voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 276 in 1972, they voiced their desire for transparency and openness in elections," Ferguson said in a statement. "Truly fair elections demand all sides follow the rules by disclosing who their donors are and how much they are spending to advocate their views."

The Washington, D.C.-based GMA is a trade association that represents more than 300 food, beverage and consumer product companies. The association is the biggest donor to the campaign that opposes Initiative 522.

Ferguson alleged GMA established an account within its organization to accept contributions that would be used to oppose the initiative when it should have formed a separate political committee.

Political committees must register with the state's Public Disclosure Commission and file reports indicating who contributed, how much they contributed and how the money was used.

The lawsuit seeks to compel GMA to register with the PDC and file disclosure statements.

Ferguson also is seeking a temporary restraining order against GMA to force it to immediately comply with state disclosure laws and the payment of civil penalties, injunctive relief, attorney fees and any other appropriate relief.

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