Washington Court of Appeals Upholds Treble Penalty for Campaign Finance Violations

  • Washington AG Bob Ferguson obtained a unanimous ruling from the Washington State Court of Appeals upholding an $18 million penalty against the Grocery Manufacturers Association (“GMA”) for violations of Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act (“FCPA”).
  • The trial court ordered GMA to pay $18 million in treble penalties after finding that GMA committed multiple FCPA violations by failing to register as a political committee and by not disclosing the sources of its funding during a campaign over a ballot initiative that would have required all packaged foods to identify genetically modified organisms.
  • The Court of Appeals decision held that the penalty was not excessive under the Eighth Amendment because it found GMA’s FCPA violations to be serious and significant, especially because GMA took affirmative steps to shield the identity of its members and the sources of its funding from public scrutiny.
  • The Court of Appeals decision came after the Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ prior decision and found subjective intent to violate the FCPA was not necessary to be subject to treble damages, and remanded the case for consideration of whether the penalty was excessive under the Eight Amendment.