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Washington judge fines grocers’ group $18M in 2013 ballot fight over GMO labeling

SEATTLE (AP) — A Thurston County judge has penalized a food industry group $18 million for concealing the true source of contributions to oppose a 2013 food labeling initiative.

Judge Anne Hirsch on Wednesday found the Grocery Manufacturers Association “intentionally violated” state campaign finance disclosure laws as it raised and spent money to defeat Initiative 522. That failed ballot measure would have required labeling of genetically modified foods.

Because the judge found that group intentionally violated the law, her civil penalty of $6 million will be tripled to $18 million.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the trade association in 2013, alleging it collected money from member companies and engaged in a scheme to shield those contributions from public scrutiny.

The group argued that it believed it complied with the law and said that if it had unintentionally violated the law, it was an “inadvertent mistake” that should warrant only a modest penalty.