After being sued by a group of citizens called "Moms for Labeling," the No on 522 campaign—they oppose the GMO-labeling initiative 522—has filed a countersuit, essentially claiming that the moms' suit is frivolous under a state law intended to protect people from lawsuits aimed at intimidating them.
Moms for Labeling alleges in their suit that the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), a top donor to the No on 522 campaign, is in violation of campaign finance laws. According to an anonymous whistleblower, the suit claims, the GMA solicited donations from its members—big food companies—then earmarked them toward the No on 522 fight, and therefore should be forced to accurately reveal their donors instead of just the larger organization.
The new countersuit by No on 522 asks a judge to decide whether the moms' lawsuit is a "strategic lawsuit against public participation"—that is, a lawsuit aimed at denying or intimidating someone from exercising their right to free speech. It's known as a "SLAPP" suit statute (work out that acronym), and the law's goal is generally to protect citizens from frivolous suits by big companies who are just trying to make it difficult to fight with them. But in this case, the law is being wielded by big companies against citizens.
According to the moms' lawyer, Knoll Lowney, "Nothing like this has ever happened in Washington State, where a SLAPP suit statute has been used against citizens like this." So how did that happen? Says Lowney, "The problem is, quite frankly, it's really hard to know when corporations are abusing the legal process to intimidate activists. It can come in a lot of different forms. So when they write these SLAPP suit statutes, they're pretty vague because they're trying to encompass a wide variety of abuses by these corporations." And that vague language may open up the use of the statute in the other direction, too.
At a hearing next week, a judge will decide one, whether this suit involves protected speech in the first place, and then if it does, if the Moms for Labeling group has sufficient evidence to prove their case. If the judge rules against them, there's a $10,000 penalty plus legal fees. Lowney says they're "hopeful," and calls the countersuit "offensive" and "intimidation against these activists."
No on 522 did not yet return calls for comment, but we'll certainly update when we hear from them.