King County Superior Judge Douglass North recently ruled that Meta deliberately violated the state’s Commercial Advertiser Law, which mandates certain information on political advertisements be handed over when requested. There were 822 violations.
Each violation can bring a fine of up to $10,000, but that amount can be tripled because of the finding that the violations were intentional. [delete]
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, urged North to impose the maximum financial penalty, noting Meta’s history of not complying with the law.
A previous case ended in a stipulated judgment that saw Meta pay a $200,000 civil penalty and $38,500 in fees.
“Despite this penalty, awareness of the Law’s requirements, and having been given a clean slate, Meta continued intentionally violating the Law from the instant the judgment in the first case was entered,” Ferguson said.
“Meta has never provided all required information in response to any request, and in the instances where Meta provided some information beyond what is publicly available in the Ad Library, Meta’s response often took weeks or months and included redactions Meta intentionally made to obscure required information from its response to requests,” he added.
The intentional violations come despite Meta lawyers being well-versed in campaign finance law and the company raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from campaigns in Washington state alone since December 2018, the filing says.
Ferguson asked for a $24.6 million penalty to be assessed, as well as a yet-to-be-determined fee for state lawyers.
“We have penalties for a reason,” Ferguson said in a statement. “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?”
Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A motion on the hearing is scheduled for later in October.
In previous court filings and oral arguments, Meta has alleged that the law itself is unconstitutional.
“Your Honor, in 49 other states, interests of electoral transparency and integrity are typically served by imposing disclosure requirements on the political speakers, not on the platforms that those speakers use. Washington has taken a different approach and it has imposed a sweeping and burdensome disclosure requirement on neutral platforms that host political advertising,” one of its lawyers said in a hearing.
North rejected the argument, and found the violations of the law to be intentional.
“They didn’t really make a significant effort to try and comply, either in terms of providing any targeting information, which is clearly required by the law, or in terms of making a serious attempt to comply in a timely fashion … to provide the information available,” he said.