In Washington’s GMO labeling campaigns, most money from out of state


OLYMPIA — For a clear picture of how Washington voters are the target of a national food fight over genetically modified ingredients, one need only look at contributions for and against Initiative 522.

In this high-stakes battle, the Yes on I-522 campaign has collected more than $4.6 million in contributions and the No on I-522 campaign more than $17.1 million.

Only about 25 cents of every dollar the Yes campaign has collected comes from Washington donors. But that’s way ahead of the No campaign, which has only $350 from inside Washington. That’s roughly a needle-size sliver of a penny out of every dollar.

Drawing out-of-state money for a Washington initiative campaign is not unusual. Last year out-of-state supporters of legalized marijuana spent heavily to pass I-502, which allows adults to smoke the drug in private, as did national groups on both sides of the gay rights issues to support or oppose the same-sex marriage referendum.

Out-of-state money has also flooded the state in previous years for initiatives regarding liquor sales, workers’ compensation insurance, soda taxes and assisted suicide.

“They’re really not about what’s happening here. These are all part of national political fights,” said Todd Donovan, a Western Washington University professor of political science who studies state and national elections.

Fewer than half the states have a process to put a law before voters through the initiative process, and Washington is one of the few where the process is still relatively inexpensive, he said.

Campaigns are less expensive here than in California, where supporters and opponents of GM labeling spent heavily in 2012 on a ballot measure that ultimately failed. That was in a busy election year with the presidential race on the ballot. This year in Washington, the GM campaigns have the ballot, and to a large extent the airwaves, to themselves.

The businesses and industry organizations that are spending what might seem like large amounts of money to many may view it as a relatively cheap investment, either to seed or squelch legislation that could spread nationally, Donovan added. Winning a ballot measure in Washington might lead to supporters in other states trying an initiative, or pushing similar measures through their legislatures.

“If they can’t make it here, they’re going to have trouble in some other states,” he said of the Yes campaign.