Meta, Facebook’s parent company, intentionally violated Washington’s longstanding campaign finance law 822 times, a King County Superior Court judge wrote Thursday, opening the social media giant up to millions of dollars in potential fines.
Washington’s transparency law, originally passed by voters through an initiative in 1972, requires ad sellers such as Meta to disclose the names and addresses of political ad buyers, the targets of such ads and the total number of views of each ad. Ad sellers must provide the information to anyone who asks for it.
Other sellers of political ads, including television stations and newspapers, have had to abide by the Washington requirements for decades.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson first sued Facebook for violating the law in 2018. In response, Facebook agreed to pay a fine and said it would stop selling political ads in the state, rather than comply with the law. Google, similarly, said it would stop selling political ads in Washington.
But they didn’t stop selling political ads.
Ferguson sued Facebook again in 2020.
Meta had tried to have the case thrown out and Washington’s campaign finance law declared unconstitutional, arguing it “unduly burdens political speech” and is “virtually impossible to fully comply with.”
But King County Superior Court Judge Douglass North, who last month denied Facebook’s attempt to invalidate the law, spelled out the social media giant’s offenses in a written order Thursday.
“Meta not only continued to solicit Washington Political Advertisements, but Meta was aware that its announced ‘ban’ would not, and did not, stop all such advertising from continuing to be displayed on its platform,” North wrote.
The company’s violations were found intentional, North wrote, because of its history of failure to comply with the law, its extensive experience with campaign finance law and its “lack of good faith and failure to acknowledge and take responsibility for its violations.”
Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The company had argued that it was impossible to comply with Washington’s law, but “failed to provide evidence” as to why it was unable to comply, North wrote.
From 2019 to 2021, three people requested information from Meta about the political ads it was selling (even as it said it had stopped selling ads in Washington).
But Meta never provided these requesters with the information required by Washington law, North wrote. When it did provide information, it was insufficient, redacted or weeks or months late, North wrote.
Each Washington political ad that Meta sold and then failed to fully disclose required information to a requester is one violation of state law.
North found that from 2019 to 2021, Meta violated the law 822 times, in failing to sufficiently respond to the three requesters.
Each violation is typically punishable by a $10,000 fine but since North found that Meta intentionally violated the law, the fines can be tripled.
That opens Meta up to a possible fine of nearly $25 million.
Meta, one of the world’s highest-valued companies, reported revenue of nearly $29 billion in the second quarter of this year, and a quarterly profit of $6.69 billion.
North wrote that Meta would be assessed a civil penalty, but the amount would be determined at a later date.