Hood River County, OR. Nestlé has recently filed extremely late campaign finance reports showing it has been secretly funding a political action front group in Hood River County fighting a ballot measure to block bottled water operations in the County.
The $105,000 in reported contributions was filed shortly before the May 17th election and constitutes the largest contribution ever reported for a Hood River County ballot measure where roughly 6,000 voters are likely to vote. While Nestlé had not previously reported contributing even a dollar to the campaign in either in direct cash or in-kind contributions of staff time, its new disclosure shows it contributed at least 90% of all funds the opposition PAC has received. Backers of 14-55 have charged for months that Nestlé was illegally failing to report its campaign contributions and secretly funding the opposition campaign.
For months a well-funded PAC calling itself “Coalition for a Strong Gorge Economy” has sent out a barrage of glossy campaign mailers, radio ads, and newspaper ads opposing Ballot Measure 14-55. Nestlé, however, had not reported any direct contributions or even staff or consultant time, which must be legally reported as in-kind contributions. Additionally, the PAC has failed to report obvious expenses, such as funding for its campaign director or campaign videos Nestlé publicly admitted producing. The largest reported prior contributions to the opposition PAC had been $35,000 from the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), of which Nestlé is a member. Nestlé’s recent filing, however, amended that report to show that the contribution was actually from Nestle, not the IBWA. This strongly suggests Nestlé attempted to illegally hide the original campaign contribution as a pass-through to the IBWA.
"This is nothing short of a fraudulent attempt by Nestlé to illegally hide that it is bankrolling the campaign against our measure,” says Aurora del Val, Campaign Director for the Local Water Alliance, the citizen group backing Measure 14-55. “Until last week they had not reported a dime in spending, when in reality they have funded the most expensive campaign in our County’s history.”
“You just can’t make stuff like this up,” says Julia DeGraw the Northwest Organizer for Food & Water Watch. “Nestlé’s role in secretly funding the opposition campaign is just another reason why this is not a company any community should let have access to its water supply.”
“The opposition has been claiming people should oppose our ballot measure by saying it would ‘hurt Cascade Locks residents,’ but the fact this message has been almost entirely paid for by Nestlé’s apparently illegal campaign contributions shows very clearly where the opposition is coming from,” added del Val.
The backers of Measure 14-55 say they will be filing an elections complaint next week with the State Elections Office.