Judge Rules Meta Violated Washington Campaign Finance Laws


Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced a King County Superior Court judge ruled that Facebook parent company Meta repeatedly violated Washington’s campaign finance transparency law. The judge also denied Meta’s attempt to gut Washington’s campaign transparency law.

In July, Ferguson filed a summary judgment motion against Meta arguing that the tech giant committed hundreds of intentional violations of Washington state’s campaign finance transparency law. At a hearing today, the judge granted the state’s motion for summary judgment against the company.

This law requires campaign advertisers, including entities such as Meta that host political ads, to make information about Washington political ads that run on their platforms available for public inspection in a timely manner. The state asserted that Meta violated the law repeatedly since December 2018 and committed hundreds of violations.

The judge concluded that Meta repeatedly and intentionally violated the law and must pay penalties. The exact amount of penalties will be determined at a later date. Under state law, the court can assess a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation. In addition, because Meta’s violations are found to have been intentional, the court may triple the amount of the judgment as punitive damages. By law, campaign finance penalties go to the State Public Disclosure Transparency Account.

The judge also denied Meta’s motion for summary judgment, which asked the court to strike down a key provision of Washington’s decades-old, best-in-the-nation law. Meta tried to strike down the law despite repeatedly stating publicly that it is committed to “providing transparency during elections.”

“We defeated Facebook’s cynical attempt to strike down our campaign finance transparency law,” Ferguson said. “On behalf of the people of Washington, I challenge Facebook to accept this decision and do something very simple – follow the law.”

Background of the case

The summary judgment motions were filed as part of Ferguson’s 2020 lawsuit against Meta — the tech company that owns Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms — for their repeated violations of state campaign finance law. The lawsuit asserts that Meta, then known only as Facebook, intentionally violated the state’s campaign finance disclosure law, which was first adopted by initiative in 1972, and the Legislature has strengthened the law since.

This law requires commercial advertisers, like Meta and any other company that runs campaign ads in Washington, to maintain records on campaign ads and make them available to the public. This includes information related to the cost of the ad, the sponsor of the ad, as well as targeting and reach information.

Meta places identified Washington political ads and some information about them in an online, publicly available Ad Library. However, the Ad Library does not include all the information that Washington law requires advertisers to maintain and make available to the public about political ads in the state.

The Attorney General’s Office has sued Meta twice for failure to produce campaign advertising records. The first lawsuit was filed in 2018, and resulted in a consent decree that required Meta to pay $238,000 and included Meta’s commitment to transparency in campaign finance and political advertising. However, Meta continued to run Washington political ads without maintaining the required information — prompting Ferguson to sue again in 2020.

Assistant Attorneys General Todd Sipe, Elana Matt, Paul Crisalli, Cristina Sepe and Jeff Grant are handling the case against Meta.

Source: Washington State Attorney General

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