OLYMPIA — A King County Superior Court judge today issued the maximum penalty of $24.6 million against Facebook’s parent company, Meta, in Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s campaign finance transparency lawsuit. Ferguson had requested the maximum penalty be imposed.
Judge Douglass North ruled that Meta intentionally violated Washington law 822 times. Because the violations were intentional, the court had the option to triple the penalty, for a maximum of $30,000 per violation.
Today, Judge North ordered Facebook to pay the maximum penalty: $24,660,000. This represents the largest campaign finance penalty anywhere in the country — ever.
Judge North also ordered Facebook to reimburse the Attorney General’s costs and fees, and ordered that those attorneys’ fees should also be tripled “as punitive damages for Meta’s intentional violations of state law.” That amount will be determined at a later date, but Ferguson’s office is requesting a total of $10.5 million, which includes the treble damages. The court ruled that Meta must pay 12 percent interest per year on the total judgment, starting from when the payments are due. By law, campaign finance penalties go to the State Public Disclosure Transparency Account.
“I have one word for Facebook’s conduct in this case — arrogance,” Ferguson said. “It intentionally disregarded Washington’s election transparency laws. But that wasn’t enough. Facebook argued in court that those laws should be declared unconstitutional. That’s breathtaking. Where’s the corporate responsibility? I urge Facebook to come to its senses, accept responsibility, apologize for its conduct, and comply with the law. If Facebook refuses to do this, we will beat them again in court.”
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 Attorney General’s campaign finance enforcement has in recent years resulted in two other findings of intentional violations: One against the Consumer Brands Association, formerly known as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, totaling $9 million, the other against initiative promoter Tim Eyman for $2.6 million.
Background of the case
Following the Sept. 2 hearing, Judge North granted Washington’s motion for summary judgment, resolving the case without trial. Judge North 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.”
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.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.email@example.com
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