Facebook parent company fined $25m for WA campaign finance violations

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Meta, Facebook’s parent company, was fined nearly $25 million on Wednesday for intentionally and repeatedly violating Washington’s campaign finance laws.

King County Superior Court Judge Douglass North imposed the maximum possible fine on the social media giant, after finding that the company had, between 2019 and 2021, violated the longstanding political disclosure law of Washington 822 times.

It is the largest campaign financial penalty ever handed down in the country, Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office said.

Each violation of the law is usually punishable up to $10,000, but since North discovered that Meta intentionally violated the law, the fines can be tripled.

North fined Meta $30,000 for each of his 822 violations.

Ferguson, who sued Meta, had sought the maximum possible fine after his office sued Facebook in 2018 for violating the same law.

“I have one word for Facebook’s conduct in this matter – arrogance,” Ferguson said Wednesday. “He intentionally ignored Washington’s election transparency laws. But it wasn’t enough. Facebook argued in court that these laws should be declared unconstitutional. It’s breathtaking. Where is the corporate responsibility?

“I urge Facebook to come to their senses, accept responsibility, apologize for their conduct, and comply with the law,” Ferguson said. “If Facebook refuses to do so, we will beat them again in court.”

Ferguson’s office is also asking for his attorneys’ fees to be tripled, totaling $10.5 million. North will decide on this number at a later date.

Meta declined to comment.

Washington’s Transparency Act, originally passed by voters as a 1972 initiative, requires ad sellers such as Meta to disclose the names and addresses of buyers of political ads, the targets of these advertisements and the total number of views of each advertisement. Ad sellers must provide the information to anyone who requests it.

Other sellers of political ads, including television stations and newspapers, have had to comply with Washington’s demands for decades.

In 2018, after Ferguson’s first trial, Facebook said it would stop selling political ads in the state, rather than comply with the law. Google, likewise, said it would stop selling political ads in Washington.

But they didn’t stop selling political ads. Both Google and Facebook paid fines of $200,000 in 2018.

Ferguson sued Facebook again in 2020.

Meta had tried to have the case thrown out, and Washington’s campaign finance law was declared unconstitutional, arguing that it “unduly burdens political discourse” and is “virtually impossible to fully comply with.”

But North concluded that the company’s violations were intentional because of its history of non-compliance with the law, its extensive experience with campaign finance law and its “lack of good faith and inability to to recognize and take responsibility for its violations”.

From 2019 to 2021, three people asked Meta for information about the political ads it was selling (even though it said it had stopped selling ads in Washington).

But Meta never provided those requesters with the information required by Washington law, North wrote. When he provided information, it was insufficient, redacted, or weeks or months late, North wrote.

“Meta not only continued to solicit political ads in Washington, but Meta was aware that its ‘ban’ would not prevent and prevent all of these ads from continuing to be displayed on its platform,” wrote North.

Meta, one of the world’s most valuable companies, on Wednesday reported revenue of nearly $28 billion in the third quarter of this year and quarterly profit of $4.39 billion.

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