Facebook ordered to pay record-setting $24.6M fine for violating WA campaign laws

Facebook, Washington

One year ago: Facebook and Twitter took steps to limit the spread of an unverified political story about the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden that was published by the conservative-leaning New York Post; the moves led to cries of censorship from the right.

UPDATE on Oct. 27, 2022: The maximum penalty of $24,600,000 has been imposed against Facebook and its parent company, Meta by a King County Superior Court judge — marking the largest campaign finance penalty in Washington state history.

“I have one word for Facebook’s conduct in this case — arrogance. It intentionally disregarded Washington’s election transparency laws,” Ferguson said. “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.”

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Attorney General Bob Ferguson is suing Meta, the parent company behind social media giant Facebook, for more than 800 violations of Washington state’s campaign finance transparency law.

As clarified in an announcement from the Attorney General’s Office on Friday morning, these laws require that campaign advertisers like Facebook/Meta which hosts political ads must make information about Washington-based campaigns available for the public to inspect.

It’s also contingent that these be made available in a “timely manner” — although a specific range of dates hasn’t been specified. Ferguson claims that Facebook has been in violation of this rule on 822 occasions since December 2018.

The following claim, which was made on behalf of Facebook and Meta before a judge in King County Superior Court, was rejected:

“The only … information that has to be made available is the information that Meta is already collecting. They necessarily collect it in order to be able to run the ads that they’re running. So all they have to do in order to display it is essentially press a button.”

On October 6, the Attorney General’s claims were substantiated and Facebook/Meta intentionally violated the law 822 times, which garners a maximum penalty of $30,000 per violation.

PREVIOUS: Facebook gave false info in campaign suit, Washington AG says

“We have penalties for a reason,” Ferguson said. “Facebook is a repeat, intentional violator of the law. It’s a sophisticated company. Instead of accepting responsibility and apologizing for its conduct, Facebook went to court to gut our campaign finance law in order to avoid accountability. If this case doesn’t warrant a maximum penalty, what does?”

In turn, the AG’s office filed a motion seeking the maximum penalty, which is worth $24.6 million. If awarded, those funds will go directly into Washington state’s Public Disclosure Transparency Account. Washington state law (RCW 42.17A.785) offers more detail about this account:

The public disclosure transparency account is created in the state treasury. All receipts from penalties collected pursuant to enforcement actions or settlements under this chapter, including any fees or costs, must be deposited into the account. Moneys in the account may be spent only after appropriation. Moneys in the account may be used only for the implementation of chapter 304, Laws of 2018 and duties under this chapter, and may not be used to supplant general fund appropriations to the commission.
The final amount to be paid out through these penalties will be decided at a later date.


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