Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaking at NPI's 2015 Spring Fundraising Gala
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson delivers the keynote at NPI's 2015 Spring Fundraising Gala on Mercer Island (Photo: Lincoln Potter/Samaya LLC for NPI)

Bei­jing Win­ter Olympics view­ers recent­ly mar­veled at sta­mi­na dis­played by Norway’s Nordic skiers and their abil­i­ty to face sub­ze­ro tem­per­a­tures and fierce head­winds on tracks in north­ern China.

No soon­er were the clos­ing cer­e­monies com­plete than Wash­ing­ton wit­nessed sev­er­al remark­able dis­plays of endurance under pres­sure by a pub­lic official.

We are talk­ing, of course, about State Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Ferguson.

The AG first took out after the Gro­cery Man­u­fac­tur­ers Asso­ci­a­tion in 2013, blow­ing the whis­tle on use of a front group called the “Defense of Brands Asso­ci­a­tion” to con­ceal mil­lions of dol­lars of dona­tions and iden­ti­ties of the donors. The GMA, since renamed Con­sumer Brands Asso­ci­a­tion, was spend­ing heav­i­ly to defeat an ini­tia­tive requir­ing label­ing of genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied foods and seeds.

Nine years lat­er, Con­sumer Brands set­tled the state’s long-run­ning mon­ey-laun­der­ing suit for $9 mil­lion, plus a writ­ten apology.

Savor words you will not often read:

“The Gro­cery Man­u­fac­tur­ers Asso­ci­a­tion accepts respon­si­bil­i­ty for fail­ing to dis­close donors in a time­ly man­ner on a 2013 bal­lot ini­tia­tive and fail­ing to reg­is­ter as a polit­i­cal com­mit­tee in accor­dance with Wash­ing­ton State cam­paign finance laws.”

A day after that, nine state Attor­neys Gen­er­al – includ­ing Fer­gu­son – wit­nessed pay­off of a gam­ble they took in long-run­ning law­suits against Pur­due Phar­ma and the Sack­ler fam­i­ly, mak­ers and aggres­sive mar­keters of the often lethal painkiller Oxy­Con­tin. The opi­oid addic­tion cri­sis has killed at least 500,000 Amer­i­cans in the last twen­ty-three years.

The nine hold­outs per­suad­ed a fed­er­al judge to reject an agree­ment signed by every oth­er state. Under a revised agree­ment, announced Fri­day, the Sack­lers will pay an increase of at least $1 bil­lion while Pur­due will put up what is expect­ed to be $1.5 bil­lion by 2024.

“We stood up to the Sack­lers and forced them to relin­quish more of their for­tune to help undo the dam­age they caused,” Fer­gu­son said. The state’s share will climb, from $70 mil­lion to $183 mil­lion, over the reject­ed plan.

Good news comes in clusters.

As the Sack­ler set­tle­ment was announced, the Leg­is­la­ture was com­plet­ing pas­sage of an NPI pri­or­i­ty bill, ESSB 5078, which pro­hibits the man­u­fac­tur­er, sale, import or trans­fer of large-capac­i­ty mag­a­zines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammu­ni­tion. The leg­is­la­tion was intro­duced at the request of AG Ferguson.

Wash­ing­ton State Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son at the Yes on I‑1639 elec­tion night party

NPI’s polling found 60% sup­port (and 50% strong sup­port) for leg­is­la­tion pro­hibit­ing the sale or pos­ses­sion of high-capac­i­ty mag­a­zines. The sur­vey by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling pegged oppo­si­tion at 35%.

Fail­ure by the Wash­ing­ton Leg­is­la­ture to act prompt­ed suc­cess­ful gun safe­ty ini­tia­tives on the state’s 2014, 2016 and 2018 ballots.

The ban on high-capac­i­ty mag­a­zines rep­re­sents a water­shed, leg­isla­tive action at last. Fer­gu­son has advo­cat­ed such a pro­hi­bi­tion since 2016, when three stu­dents were mur­dered and a fourth wound­ed at a Muk­il­teo house party.

The week end­ed Sat­ur­day with a “Free­dom Fes­ti­val” ral­ly in Olympia against COVID-19 man­dates and fea­tur­ing ini­tia­tive sponsor/grifter Tim Eyman.

Eyman was, as usu­al, appeal­ing for dona­tions to his legal defense fund.

Bob Feguson speaks at a press conference announcing new lawsuit against Tim Eyman
Bob Fegu­son speaks at a press con­fer­ence announc­ing new law­suit against Tim Eyman

“Is it any won­der the Attor­ney Gen­er­al is work­ing so hard to stop all my future polit­i­cal activ­i­ty?” asked Eyman.

The real­i­ty, of course, is a five-year legal strug­gle that result­ed in a $2.6 mil­lion civ­il fine imposed by Thurston Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court Judges James Dixon for what he called “numer­ous and par­tic­u­lar­ly egre­gious” vio­la­tions of state cam­paign finance laws. Eyman has also been ordered to pay up $2.9 mil­lion in state legal costs, the price for stonewalling the dis­cov­ery process and try­ing to block requests for documents.

Tak­ing off from an orig­i­nal inves­tiga­tive report by the Pub­lic Dis­clo­sure Com­mis­sion that was prompt­ed by a com­plaint filed by Wash­ing­to­ni­ans For Eth­i­cal Gov­ern­ment board­mem­ber Sher­ry Bock­winkel, the Attor­ney General’s office made the case that Eyman laun­dered cam­paign dona­tions, received kick­backs from a sig­na­ture gath­er­ing firm, secret­ly moved mon­ey from one ini­tia­tive cam­paign to anoth­er, and hid sources of contributions.

Whew! But there’s more. In the sum­mer of 2020, Montsan­to agreed to pay out $95 mil­lion to set­tle a suit filed by the state.

The AG charged the big chem­i­cal firm with con­tin­u­ing to pro­duce and mar­ket poly­chlo­ri­nat­ed biphenyls (PCBs) even though it knew the haz­ards to human health and the envi­ron­ment. Wash­ing­ton, in 2016, became the first state to sue.

“Wash­ing­ton has been shoul­der­ing the health and envi­ron­men­tal costs of PCB con­t­a­m­i­na­tion and cleanup for decades: This record pay­ment holds Mon­san­to account­able for the harm they inflict­ed on our state,” said Ferguson.

Over more than half-a-cen­tu­ry, activists have been march­ing down Seattle’s Pine Street to West­lake Mall chant­i­ng, “What do we want? (Peace, free­dom, rev­o­lu­tion) When do we want it? Now.” Alas, what Dr. King called the “fierce urgency of now,” has not moved caus­es to the front burner.

Action is in the pol­i­cy and legal trench­es, and often takes years.

What has been dif­fer­ent in Ferguson’s case?

Attor­neys Gen­er­al savor quick, high-pub­lic­i­ty hits, or splashy fil­ings of suits that will go nowhere. (For instance, Texas tried to block count­ing of some elec­toral votes in the 2020 elec­tion.) It has been con­sid­ered a vic­to­ry for pub­lic pol­i­cy when a car deal­er agrees to quit rolling back odometers.

Fer­gu­son had a famous­ly fast vic­to­ry, block­ing the Trump regime’s first Mus­lim trav­el ban in U.S. Dis­trict Court and the U.S. 9th Cir­cuit Court of Appeals. The win was ampli­fied by a tantrum from the 45th pres­i­dent and Trump’s ref­er­ence to a “so-called judge.” Oth­er “wins” were made pos­si­ble by slop­py legal work, notably fail­ure by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to con­form with the Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dures Act when rolling back fed­er­al con­sumer and envi­ron­men­tal regulations.

With Fer­gu­son, how­ev­er, oth­er fac­tors have come into play.

Bob Ferguson playing chess at the Ravenna Community Center
Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son is a cham­pi­on chess play­er (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

The AG is a chess cham­pi­on, with exper­tise in a time-con­sum­ing game whose out­come depends on cal­cu­la­tion of future moves.

Nor does Fer­gu­son go in for what some cor­po­rate defen­dants call “cost of doing busi­ness” set­tle­ments, a slap on the wrist fine with no acknowl­edg­ment of respon­si­bil­i­ty or regret. Where there’s a large – or just – reward down the road, he goes for it.

The Attor­ney Gen­er­al heads Washington’s largest law firm. When Fer­gu­son announces a win, he care­ful­ly lists lawyers with the AG’s office who worked on the cause, and co-plain­tiffs numer­ous in such cas­es as the Sack­ler-Pur­due lawsuit.

He has enjoyed a strong sup­port­ing cast. State Solic­i­tor Gen­er­al Noah Pur­cell argued the Mus­lim trav­el ban before the 9th Cir­cuit. Pur­cell was also called upon to argue the state’s case in the Sack­ler-Pur­due litigation.

The nine states won some­thing more than mon­ey. The Sack­ler fam­i­ly have agreed to place in a pub­lic doc­u­ments repos­i­to­ry con­fi­den­tial doc­u­ments that detail lob­by­ing, pub­lic rela­tions, sales tech­niques and mar­ket­ing. Aggres­sive mar­ket­ing was a key aspect of this state’s case against Pur­due Pharma.

Oth­er suits against major drug man­u­fac­tur­ers, dis­trib­u­tors and such retail firms as Wal­greens and CVS are wind­ing their way through the courts.

Wash­ing­ton is press­ing lit­i­ga­tion against those who dis­trib­uted, as well as man­u­fac­tured OxyContin.

The record estab­lished by Bob Fer­gu­son makes a point: If man­aged right, time need not be the ene­my of justice.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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