Sept. 6, 2018
By Walt Williams
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A Washington state appeals court has stuck down an $18 million fine levied against the Grocery Manufacturers Association for violating state campaign finance law, instead sending the decision back to lower court for further review.
GMA was hit with the $18 million fine in 2016 after a state district court concluded the association failed to disclose contributors to a campaign opposing a state ballot initiative that would have required labels on foods containing genetically modified ingredients. The judge in the case imposed a $6 million fine then trebled damages after concluding GMA had intentionally violated the law.
GMA appealed the decision. In a Sept. 5 ruling, the three-judge Washington Court of Appeals found that while the association had broken the law, the lower court erred in finding GMA’s actions “intentional” and trebling damages as a result. The appeals court sent the case back to lower court to reconsider the fine.
The $18 million fine against GMA was one of the largest ever levied against an organization for violating state campaign finance law. It also was a blow to an association whose members were divided on how to respond to GMO labeling initiatives like the one in Washington. At least eight high-profile food companies have left GMA since 2017, and earlier this year the group’s long-time CEO Pam Bailey stepped down. Former American Gaming Association CEO Geoff Freeman succeeded her.
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