Meta, Facebook’s parent company, repeatedly and intentionally violated Washington campaign-ad transparency law and must pay penalties yet to be determined, a judge ruled Friday.
The court also denied Meta’s attempt to invalidate Washington’s decades-old transparency law, according to Attorney General Bob Ferguson, whose office has repeatedly sued Meta over its failure to abide by the law.
The oral ruling was made Friday by King County Superior Court Judge Douglass North. A written order was not immediately available.
In a statement, Ferguson said his office defeated Facebook’s “cynical attempt” to gut Washington’s campaign-finance transparency law. “On behalf of the people of Washington, I challenge Facebook to accept this decision and do something very simple — follow the law,” he said.
Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Washington’s transparency law, originally passed by voters through an initiative in 1972, requires ad sellers such as Meta to disclose the names and addresses of political ad buyers, the targets of such ads and the total number of views of each ad. Ad sellers must provide the information to anyone who asks for it.
Other sellers of political ads, including television stations and newspapers, have had to abide by the Washington requirements for decades.
But Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, has repeatedly objected to the requirements, and argued in a summary judgment motion that Washington’s law is an “outlier” that “unduly burdens political speech” and is “virtually impossible to comply with.”
Meta, one of the world’s highest-valued companies, reported revenue of nearly $29 billion in the second quarter of this year, and a quarterly profit of $6.69 billion.
In court on Friday, North rejected Meta’s arguments, finding the company had failed to show it was unable to comply, according to Eli Sanders, a journalist and legal fellow with the Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington, who has extensively followed the case and documented the ruling Friday in a thread on Twitter.
“This is clearly a very appropriate subject for disclosure, and the law is very constitutional,” North said, according to Sanders, a former editor for The Stranger whose reporting on Facebook’s noncompliance prompted the state’s original lawsuit.
The exact penalty for the companies will be determined at a later court hearing. The law allows financial penalties of $10,000 per violation, which can be tripled when violations are deemed intentional. The Attorney General’s Office asserted Facebook has committed several hundred violations since 2018.
Ferguson’s office first sued Facebook and Google for violating the law in 2018. The companies agreed to pay a settlement of more than $450,000 and announced they’d stop selling political ads in the state, rather than comply with the law’s disclosure requirements. (The state’s restrictions apply to state and local races, but not to federal contests such as congressional elections.)
But Facebook did not stop selling political ads here, leading Ferguson to sue the company again in 2020.
Meta has made some details of political ads across the country available in its searchable public Meta Ad Library. However, the library does not include all the legally required information for ads running in Washington state.