OLYMPIA — Facebook parent Meta is attempting to eliminate a key provision of Washington’s campaign finance transparency law in a recent motion in the Attorney General’s case against the company. Instead of changing its practices to comply with Washington’s decades-old campaign finance law, Meta filed a summary judgment motion asking the court to strike down transparency requirements on commercial advertisers.
Meta is a repeat violator of Washington’s campaign finance law.
Washington’s state campaign finance law was recently ranked best in the nation by the Coalition for Integrity, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that promotes transparency and accountability. Despite repeatedly stating publicly that it is committed to “providing transparency during elections,” Meta is attempting to escape accountability and strike down a crucial provision of Washington’s gold-standard law.
The Attorney General’s Office filed a response Tuesday to Meta’s motion in King County Superior Court. The response requests that the court deny Meta’s attempt to gut Washington’s law.
Specifically, Meta is seeking to eliminate the law’s requirement that commercial advertisers, like Meta and any other company that runs campaign ads in Washington, maintain records on campaign ads and make them available to the public. This requirement applies to Washington television stations, newspapers, and other places where political committees place advertisements. This includes information related to the cost of the ad, the sponsor of the ad, as well as information regarding how many individuals saw the ad, and the demographics of Washingtonians the ad targeted.
“If our local newspapers and TV stations provide information to Washingtonians regarding their political ads, so can one of the most sophisticated corporations on the planet,” Ferguson said. “If Meta’s cynical attempt to strike down Washington’s campaign finance law succeeds, Washingtonians will lose the right to see in real time who is funding political ads and how much money they’re spending. Let’s be clear – this multinational corporation is trying to undermine transparency in our elections.”
In July, Ferguson filed a summary judgment motion against Meta, asking the court to rule that the tech giant committed numerous, intentional violations of Washington state’s campaign finance transparency law. This law requires campaign advertisers, including entities such as Meta that host political ads, to make information about Washington political ads that run on their platforms available for public inspection in a timely manner.
The judge will rule on the summary judgment motions after a hearing on September 2.
Background of the case
The summary judgment motions were filed as part of Ferguson’s 2020 lawsuit against Meta — the tech company that owns Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms — for their repeated violations of state campaign finance law. The lawsuit asserts that Meta, then known only as Facebook, intentionally violated the state’s campaign finance disclosure law, which was first adopted by the initiative in 1972 and reenacted and amended multiple times since 1976 by the Legislature.
This law requires commercial advertisers, like Meta and any other company that runs campaign ads in Washington, to maintain records on campaign ads and make them available to the public. This includes information related to the cost of the ad, the sponsor of the ad, as well as targeting and reach information.
Meta places identified Washington political ads and some information about them in an online, publicly available Ad Library. However, the Ad Library does not include all the information that Washington law requires advertisers to maintain and make available to the public about political ads in the state.
The Attorney General’s Office has sued Meta twice for failure to produce campaign advertising records. The first lawsuit was filed in 2018 and resulted in a consent decree that required Meta to pay $238,000 and included Meta’s commitment to transparency in campaign finance and political advertising. However, Meta continued to run Washington political ads without maintaining the required information — prompting Ferguson to sue again in 2020.
Ferguson’s motion for summary judgment asks for penalties against Meta, including enhanced penalties for its intentional violations. Ferguson’s lawsuit asserts Meta violated the law repeatedly since December 2018. The state asserts that Meta committed hundreds of violations. Under state law, the court can assess a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation. In addition, if Meta’s violations are found to have been intentional, the court may triple the amount of the judgment as punitive damages. By law, campaign finance penalties go to the State Public Disclosure Transparency Account.
Assistant Attorneys General Todd Sipe, Elana Matt, Paul Crisalli, Cristina Sepe, and Jeff Grant are handling the case against Meta.