Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced that Facebook has received the largest election fine in U.S. history of nearly 25 million, and he said it was justified.
In what is thought to be the largest campaign finance penalty in American history, a Washington state judge on Wednesday fined Facebook parent company Meta almost $25 million for repeatedly and willfully breaking the law requiring campaign finance disclosure.
In response to more than 800 infractions of Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act, which was enacted by voters in 1972 and later strengthened 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 office for breaking the same statute in 2018.
Meta, based in Menlo Park, California, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
According to Washington’s transparency law, ad sellers 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 by the law.
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But Meta has consistently protested the regulations, claiming in court that they “unduly burden political speech” and are “virtually impossible to fully comply with,” making them unconstitutional. Facebook does retain a record of the political ads that are placed on its site, but the record does not contain all of the information that is required by Washington’s statute.
“I have one word for Facebook’s conduct in this case — arrogance,” Ferguson said in a news release. “It intentionally disregarded Washington’s election transparency laws. But that wasn’t enough. Facebook argued in court that those laws should be declared unconstitutional. That’s breathtaking. Where’s the corporate responsibility?”
Following the initial complaint filed by Ferguson, Facebook consented to pay $238,000 and made a commitment to transparency in political advertising and campaign financing. It subsequently declared that rather than follow the rules, it will stop selling political advertisements in the state.
Ferguson filed a second lawsuit in 2020 when the corporation persisted in selling political advertisements.
“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 last month in finding that Meta violation’s were intentional.
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 tripled. For each of its 822 offences, North fined Meta $30,000, totaling nearly $24.7 million. The fine, according to Ferguson, was the largest 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.