Court: GMA unlawfully hid donors’ identities from public AG Ferguson prevails in landmark campaign finance lawsuit; penalty decision to come
OLYMPIA — In a decision made public today, a Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association violated Washington campaign finance disclosure laws by shielding the identities of major corporate donors funding efforts to defeat a food labeling initiative in Washington.
“This landmark case has been a long fight for accountability,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “This ruling sends an unequivocal message: Big money donors cannot evade Washington law and hide from public scrutiny. My office will hold you accountable.”
The case, State v. Grocery Manufacturers Association, concerns GMA’s financing of a 2013 campaign against Initiative 522, which sought to require labeling of genetically engineered products. GMA, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association, was the largest single donor to the “No on 522” political committee.
GMA raised $14 million from its members in solicitations for a new “Defense of Brands” account, above and beyond regular member dues. PepsiCo, for example, contributed nearly $3 million to the account, and Nestle and Coca-Cola upwards of $2 million each.
GMA then donated $11 million of the $14 million from corporations to “No on 522.” In an effort to shield individual companies from required disclosure, the money was listed as coming from GMA, not the actual donors, such as Pepsi, Nestle and Coke.
“In enacting the Public Campaign Finance Laws, the people of Washington directed that they be interpreted liberally, to promote transparency and full disclosure to the voters,” Judge Anne Hirsch’s decision reads. “By its actions creating the [Defense of Brands] account, the GMA violated the spirit and letter of Washington’s Public Campaign Finance Laws.”
The court also determined that there remains a factual dispute whether GMA’s violation of the law was intentional. The court, therefore, did not determine what penalty would be imposed at this point in the proceedings, and the case will continue to trial on the disputed facts. Under the law, sanctions for campaign finance disclosure violations can include a penalty equal to the amount not reported as required. If the court finds that the violation was intentional, that penalty amount can be tripled.
Ferguson filed the lawsuit against GMA in October 2013. Internal GMA documents released as a result of this lawsuit revealed a systematic effort to conceal the true sources of $11 million in contributions to oppose I-522.
For example, meeting minutes from the GMA Board’s Finance and Audit Committee meeting show a discussion on the creation of the “Defense of Brands Strategic Account,” largely to oppose I-522: “By doing so, state GMO related spending will be identified as having come from GMA, which will provide anonymity and eliminate state filing requirements for contributing members.” In a GMA Executive Committee meeting, the Executive Vice President for Government Affairs noted that the fund would “shield individual companies from public disclosure and possible criticism.”
“The undisputed evidence further shows that the GMA's intent was to create a plan to ‘provide anonymity and eliminate state filing requirements for contributing members,’" Judge Hirsch wrote, citing GMA’s own documents. “As a matter of law, GMA members had knowledge of the plan to conceal the true source of contributions received and expenditures made in opposing I-522 and therefore GMA violated” Washington’s campaign finance laws.
The court also found: “There is one, and only one, reasonable inference that can be drawn from the facts before this court: that the GMA intentionally took steps to create and then hide the true source of the funds in the DOB account from the voting public of Washington State.”
In 2013, the top 10 contributors to GMA’s Defense of Brands account and their contributions (as of 12/3/13) were:
PepsiCo: $2.696 million
Nestle USA, Inc.: $1.751 million
The Coca-Cola Company: $1.742 million
General Mills: $996,000
Campbell Soup: $441,000
The Hershey Company: $413,000
J.M. Smucker: $401,000
Land O’Lakes: $332,000
Katrina Asay, chair of the Public Disclosure Commission, praised the decision: “The Commission is very pleased with the ruling. This case sends a strong message that the Commission will not tolerate efforts to conceal the truth about who is funding campaigns and attempting to influence elections. We appreciate how quickly the Attorney General acted in this matter, and we believe his staff did a great job of defending Washington’s campaign disclosure requirements for the people of Washington State.”
Senior Assistant Attorney General Linda Dalton, Deputy Solicitor General Callie Castillo, and Assistant Attorney General Garth Ahearn are handling this case.
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The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
The World Health Organization’s cancer agency IARC has published a clear Q&A on the probable carcinogen and World’s most used herbicide – glyphosate. The Q&A makes it clear that glyphosate alone is both a probable human carcinogen and is genotoxic.
GM Watch stated Tuesday: The IARC decided that the formulations are a risk, and so is pure glyphosate. This shows that attempts by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to quell the public’s and EU countries’ concerns by tweaking or banning certain co-formulants, like tallowamine, will not get to the root of the glyphosate toxicity problem.
In March 2015, IARC classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2A).
This was based on “limited” evidence of cancer in humans (from real-world exposures that actually occurred) and “sufficient” evidence of cancer in experimental animals (from studies of “pure” glyphosate).
IARC also concluded that there was “strong” evidence for genotoxicity, both for “pure” glyphosate and for glyphosate formulations.
The IARC Monographs evaluation is based on the systematic assembly and review of all publicly available and pertinent studies, by independent experts, free from vested interests. It follows strict scientific criteria, and the classification system is recognized and used as a reference all around the world. This is because IARC evaluations are based on independent scientific review and rigorous criteria and procedures.
To reach these conclusions, IARC reviewed about 1000 studies. Some of the studies looked at people exposed through their jobs, such as farmers. Others were experimental studies on cancer and cancer-related effects in experimental systems.
Could the carcinogenic effects of glyphosate be related to the other chemicals in the formulations?
No. The IARC Monographs evaluation is based on the systematic assembly and review of all publicly available evidence relevant to the carcinogenicity of glyphosate. Most people’s exposure to glyphosate concerns commercial formulations that include glyphosate and other ingredients. The Monograph included these studies of real-world exposures to humans. It also included experimental studies of “pure” glyphosate and of glyphosate-based formulations.
For the experimental studies of “pure” glyphosate, the Monograph concluded that the evidence for causing cancer in experimental animals was “sufficient” and the evidence for causing genotoxicity was “strong”. The real-world exposures experienced by human populations are to a variety of formulations of glyphosate with other chemicals, because this is how glyphosate is mainly sold and used. Similar results were reported in studies of different formulations used in different geographical regions at different times.
Taking all of this evidence together, the IARC Working Group classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2A). Following the criteria in the Preamble to the IARC Monographs, the classification of glyphosate is based on “limited” evidence of cancer in humans (from exposures that actually occurred) and “sufficient” evidence of cancer in experimental animals (from studies of “pure” glyphosate). This classification is further supported by “strong” evidence for genotoxicity, both for “pure” glyphosate and for glyphosate formulations.
Could the co-formulants be the cause of the genotoxic effects reported in the IARC Monograph?
With regard to genotoxicity, the IARC Working Group evaluated studies of “pure” glyphosate as well as studies of glyphosate-based formulations. The Working Group reached the same hazard conclusion for glyphosate and for its formulations: they concluded that the evidence for genotoxicity was “strong” for glyphosate and “strong” for glyphosate formulations.
Several of the epidemiological studies considered by the IARC expert Working Group showed increased cancer rates in occupational settings after exposure to glyphosate herbicides. Can this be attributed to glyphosate as a single ingredient or could it be due to other chemicals in the formulations?
Real-world exposures that people experience are to glyphosate in formulated products. Studies of humans exposed to different formulations in different regions at different times reported similar increases in the same type of cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Data on “pure” glyphosate from animal and other experimental studies, including on human cells, support the conclusion from the studies of exposed people. For the studies of “pure” glyphosate, the Monograph concluded that the evidence for cancer in experimental animals was “sufficient” and the evidence for genotoxicity was “strong”.
One of the key studies evaluated in the Monograph was the United States Agricultural Health Study (AHS). This study did not find an association between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and glyphosate. Can this study alone outweigh the positive associations found in other epidemiological studies?
The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) has been described as the “most powerful” study, but this is not correct. The AHS collected data on cancer and pesticide use in more than 50 000 farmers and pesticide applicators in two states in the USA. The weakness of the study is that people were followed up for a short period of time, which means fewer cases of cancer would have had time to appear. This factor can limit the ability of a study to detect an association if one truly exists. Therefore, although the AHS is a large, well-conducted study, its results on glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma risk do not outweigh those of other studies.
The IARC Working Group also conducted an objective statistical analysis of the results of all of the available studies on glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which included the AHS and all of the case–control studies. The data from all of the studies combined show a statistically significant association between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and exposure to glyphosate.
In the studies IARC evaluated, were there cancers only seen in animals exposed to the toxic doses of glyphosate?
No. The IARC Working Group identified statistically significant trends of higher numbers of cancers with higher doses of “pure” glyphosate in studies of mice, suggesting increasing response with dose. Cancers were seen in the absence of toxicity.
An important consideration in the IARC Working Group’s evaluation was that glyphosate caused unusual types of tumours, which are very rarely seen in untreated animals. Rare tumours can provide important evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship, but may only be seen at high doses. The IARC Working Group’s evaluation of these tumours was in line with accepted principles and gave highly significant results.
Regulatory agencies have reviewed the key studies examined by IARC – and more – and concluded that glyphosate poses no unreasonable risks to humans. What did IARC do differently?
Many regulatory agencies rely primarily on industry data from toxicological studies that are not available in the public domain. In contrast, IARC systematically assembles and evaluates all relevant evidence available in the public domain for independent scientific review.
For the IARC Monograph on glyphosate, the total volume of publications and other information sources considered by the Working Group was about 1000 citations. All citations were then screened for relevance, following the principles in the Preamble to the IARC Monographs.
After this screening process, the Monograph sections on cancer epidemiology and cancer bioassays in laboratory animals cited every included study. The sections on exposure and mechanisms of carcinogenesis consider representative studies and therefore do not necessarily cite every identified study. Once published, the IARC Monograph on glyphosate cited 269 references.
In the interests of transparency, IARC evaluations rely only on data that are in the public domain and available for independent scientific review. The IARC Working Group’s evaluation of glyphosate included any industry studies that met these criteria. However, they did not include data from summary tables in online supplements to published articles, which did not provide enough detail for independent assessment. This was the case with some of the industry studies of cancer in experimental animals.
With the material reviewed by the Working Group, there was enough evidence to conclude that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans.
What does IARC’s classification mean in terms of the probability of developing a cancer?
The IARC Working Group’s classification of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2A) is based on “limited” evidence of cancer in humans (from real-world exposures that actually occurred) and “sufficient” evidence of cancer in experimental animals (from studies of “pure” glyphosate). This classification is further supported by “strong” evidence for genotoxicity, both for “pure” glyphosate and for glyphosate formulations.
The IARC Monographs evaluation is a hazard classification. It indicates the strength of evidence that glyphosate can cause cancer. The probability of developing a cancer will depend on factors such as the type and extent of exposure and the strength of the effect of the agent.