Politics Blog

Washington AG Ferguson wants stiff penalty in anti-522 contribution case

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson says he hopes his lawsuit against the Grocery Manufacturers Association results in a penalty sufficient to deter future violations of the state's campaign cash disclosure laws.

Ferguson visited us this morning for a wide-ranging discussion of issues he and his staff are working on. The first topic he chose to mention was the lawsuit stemming from the GMA's heavy contributions to the ultimately-successful effort to defeat I-522. That measure would have required labeling of genetically-modified food ingredients.

Ferguson said the state's disclosure laws won't have much impact if the penalty for violating those laws is small enough to be no more than "the cost of doing business" for big contributors.

Grocery Manufacturers Association collected $10.6 million from its members to fight the labeling initiative.

Ferguson also discussed the complex legal issues surrounding the state's move into the recreational marijuana business. A key issue, Ferguson said, is the inability of state-sanctioned marijuana manufacturers, processors and retailers to use the banking system under current federal laws. That raises the spectre of an all-cash business that would be a target for gunmen and a regulatory nightmare.

Ferguson said he has learned that the State Legislature may be asked to consider a bill that would set up a state bank, outside the federal banking system, if the feds prove unable or unwilling to accommodate a business that remains illegal under federal law.

Would such a bank be legal under federal law? Ferguson said that question remains to be answered.

Also remaining to be answered is the question of whether local governments have the option to outlaw recreational marijuana sales in their jurisdictions. The initiative that voters approved is silent on this issue. Pierce County officials recently decided to prohibit marijuana sales in unincorporated areas, and Ferguson said his office is preparing a legal opinion on that matter.

Ferguson also alerted us to this settlement with a major mortgage servicer, Ocwen Financial Services of Atlanta. Washington is one of 49 states involved in this case, which has been in the works for a long time.

This is part of a crackdown on mortgage servicing abuses that began under Ferguson's precedessor, Rob McKenna.