In what is thought to be the highest campaign finance punishment in American history, a Washington state judge on Wednesday fined Facebook parent corporation Meta almost $25 million for repeatedly and willfully breaking the law requiring campaign contribution disclosure.
In response to more than 800 infractions of Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act, which was enacted by voters in 1972 and later reinforced by the Legislature, King County Superior Court Judge Douglass North imposed the maximum penalty. The maximum, according to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, was justified in light of the fact that Facebook was previously sued by his agency for breaking the same statute in 2018.
An email requesting comment from Menlo Park, California-based Meta did not receive a prompt response.
According to Washington’s transparency law, ad vendors like Meta are required to keep track of and make public the names and addresses of people who purchase political advertisements as well as the target audience, method of payment, and total number of views for each ad. Anyone who requests it must receive the information from the ad sellers. Newspapers and television networks have consistently abided with the law.
But Meta has consistently protested the regulations, claiming in court that they “unduly burden political expression” and are “nearly hard to completely comply with,” making them unlawful. Facebook does retain a record of the political advertisements that are placed on its site, but the record does not contain all of the information that is needed by Washington’s statute.
In a news release, Ferguson stated, “I have one word for Facebook’s actions in this case: hubris. “It purposefully ignored Washington’s election transparency regulations. However, it wasn’t enough. In court, Facebook contended that these laws should be ruled illegal. That is magnificent. Corporate accountability is absent.”
Following the initial complaint filed by Ferguson, Facebook consented to pay $238,000 and made a commitment to openness in political advertising and campaign financing. It later said that rather than follow the rules, it will discontinue selling political advertisements in the state.
Ferguson filed a second lawsuit in 2020 when the corporation persisted in selling political advertisements.
When determining that Meta violations were purposeful, North wrote last month: “Meta was cognizant that its proclaimed ‘ban’ would not, and would not, preclude all such advertising from continuing to be shown on its platform.
The normal fine for each infraction of the statute is $10,000, but if the judge determines that the infraction was deliberate, the fine might be treble. For each of its 822 offenses, North fined Meta $30,000, totaling nearly $24.7 million. The amount, according to Ferguson, was the biggest campaign finance-related fine ever levied in the United States.
One of the richest corporations in the world, Meta, declared earnings for the three months that ended on September 30 of $4.4 billion, or $1.64 per share, on revenue of around $28 billion.