Washington State AG Secures Largest Campaign Finance Fine Ever Against Meta Platforms for Transparency Violations

On Wednesday, a King County, Washington judge issued a judgment of  $24.6 million, a figure that represents the maximum statutory penalty, against Meta Platforms Inc. in state Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s campaign finance transparency lawsuit. Judge Douglass North ruled that Meta committed more than 800 violations of a Washington law that requires commercial advertisers to maintain records on campaign ads and make them available to the public.

The suit dates to 2020 when Ferguson sued Meta for intentional violations of the law on Meta’s Facebook and Instagram platforms. Though required to publicize information relating to ad cost, sponsorship, as well as targeting and reach information, Meta only placed some information about political ads in an online, publicly available Ad Library, Ferguson contended.

Notably, the suit follows a 2018 action against Meta, then Facebook, for the same violations. That lawsuit resulted in a six-figure penalty and a consent decree pursuant to which Meta committed to refraining from further violations. “However, Meta continued to run Washington political ads without maintaining the required information — prompting Ferguson to sue again in 2020,” the office’s press release said.

This week’s decision imposed Ferguson’s requested penalty of a maximum of $30,000 per violation. This, his office said, represents the nation’s largest campaign finance penalty ever. 

“I have one word for Facebook’s conduct in this case — arrogance,” Ferguson said in a statement. “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? 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.”

Meta is represented by Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and Kirkland & Ellis LLP.