By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog
A legal defense fund created to defend Vermont’s anti-GMO labeling law got a boost this week after liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org made a massive deposit, more than doubling the fund’s account balance.
“It’s a $53,000 donation that we got from an organization called MoveOn.org,” Sarah Clark, deputy commissioner of Vermont’s Department of Finance & Management, told Vermont Watchdog.
“They said they had been collecting on behalf of the fund from their members and interested parties and would be sending a donation. So that’s what we did receive this week, which essentially more than doubled the balance of the fund.”
The Vermont Food Fight Fund, a special fund created by the Legislature, is on track to raise $1.5 million to defend a state law requiring labeling of foods that may contain genetically modified ingredients. Vermont is the first in the nation to require the labeling of GMOs.
On June 12, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, along with three other trade groups, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell and Gov. Peter Shumlin, arguing that mandatory labeling of GMOs violates commercial free speech rights.
Since then, the Food Fight Fund has grown from about $17,000 to more than $100,000 — mostly with the help of out-of-state donations. As of Friday, nearly 80 percent of the fund’s 964 donations came from outside Vermont.
“There really are a lot from out of state, and even a few from out of the country — primarily, I think, from Canada. So the word has really traveled beyond Vermont’s borders,” Clark said.
MoveOn.org’s commitment to GMO labeling is evidenced by its 2013 campaign to advance GMO label laws in 47 states. The group’s “GMO Labeling Now” events included rallies, phone blitzes on governors and state lawmakers, and even a “Monsanto Challenge taste test” — a takeoff of the Pepsi Challenge, in which consumers famously were asked to sample two colas and pick the one they like most.
As seen in the group’s video, the Monsanto Challenge asks consumers to choose between organic corn and corn grown from Monsanto seeds. Prior to sampling, participants are told one ear of corn contains bacterial pesticide Bt toxin (bacillus thuringiensis). “BT toxin may contribute to blood abnormalities such as anemia or leukemia,” the facilitator says to a taster.
MoveOn.org’s Civic Action division has plenty of cash to throw at Vermont. According to the group’s 990 tax forms, the 501(c)(4) organization received more than $4.1 million in contributions in 2012 — up from $770,000 in 2011.
Rob Roper, president of free market think tank The Ethan Allen Institute, said activist money from MoveOn.org and other donors outside of the state is part of a troubling pattern in which national special interest groups treat Vermonters as “political lab rats.”
“The leadership that we now have in office is aiding and abetting (national special interests) and turning our state into a petri dish — whether the people in the state are in favor of these policies or not,” he said.
“If you’re for GMO labeling or opposed to GMO labeling, everyone in Vermont should be on the same side that we should determine these issues on our own. We shouldn’t be farming out our policies, and the funding of those policies, to anybody — including organizations like MoveOn.org.”
Roper said the same activity is happening on multiple fronts — most notably with health care, in which the Service Employees International Union provides funds to Vermont Leads, a 501(c)(4) organization dedicated to the advancement of a single-payer health care.
Whether one agrees with the labeling of GMOs, the Vermont Food Fight Fund allows people across the nation and world to weigh-in on the issue by funding the state’s legal battle. And with the user-friendly taxpayer-funded website, making a contribution is easy, whether you’re a Vermonter or not.
“It’s pretty open for whatever the individual wants to contribute. You can do it online, or you can mail in a check,” Clark said.
Contact Bruce Parker at [email protected]