Food Labeling Campaign
3:17 pm
Mon August 19, 2013

I-522 Supporters for GE Labels Outraising Opponents 4 to 1

Washington voters will decide this fall whether foods that contain genetically-engineered ingredients must carry a special label.

Initiative 522 is similar to a California measure that failed last fall. But so far, the race for political contributions is shaping up quite differently. 

It’s a campaign fight that pits small-scale organics producers and consumers’ rights groups against big grocery manufacturers and chemical giants. Think Dr. Bronner and PCC versus Montsanto and Dupont. But so far, the little guys, who want the new labels, are outraising opponents by roughly four to one.

“The supporting side right now has an advantage. They've raised $3.9 million. The opposing side has raised about $950,000 as of our last update, which was last week,” said Jay Costa, with Maplight, a nonprofit, non-partisan money-in-politics research organization. Maplight presents public data on political contributions in easy-to-understand websites, such as Voters Edge Washington. Some of the money raised by labeling supporters went toward gathering signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

Costa says the players are much the same here as in California, but it’s early days yet, so the dynamics are likely to change.  

Analysts including Matt Barretto, an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Washington, expects the opposition will raise at least $10 million when all is said and done. And he says, like in California, they’ll outspend the supporters by a very large margin.

“But having that early money can be quite important. We’ve seen that in other initiatives, that whoever takes to the airwaves first and really frames the campaign, they get to get that lead thought in the voters,” Barretto said.

Barretto says spending early on political ads could help I-522’s supporters overcome the opposition’s deep pockets.

In California, Proposition 37 failed but by a very narrow margin, even though the opposition had more than five times as much money in the race. If Washington’s initiative passes, other states are expected to follow.