Corporations have free speech rights? Lawsuit over industry opposition to Washington GMO labeling bill raises pressing questions


A Washington Supreme Court hearing [October 22] on a record $18 million fine against the food industry touched on boycotts, death threats and whether companies have the same free-speech protection as civil rights workers.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group, faces the penalty for failing to timely report the names of the companies that contributed $11 million in 2013 to defeat a GMO-labeling initiative.

An appeals court upheld the conviction, but found the violations were not intentional and slashed the penalty to $6 million — still by far the largest fine ever in the U.S. for a campaign violation.

GMA is appealing the conviction, and the state Attorney General’s Office is seeking to restore the $18 million fine.

Related article:  Washington Supreme Court orders reassessment of $18 million penalty against food industry group alleged to have concealed GMO labeling campaign funding

At the heart of GMA’s case is whether companies and executives faced retaliation by engaging in political speech. After a bruising initiative battle in California in 2012, GMA set up a separate account to take in money from members. GMA then contributed $11 million under its name to the “no” campaign.

Under pressure from the state, GMA named the companies shortly before the election.

Read full, original article: Washington high court probes food industry’s speech rights

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