Big Tech giant Meta Platforms Inc. has been fined $24.6 million for violating campaign finance transparency laws in Washington state.
The ruling is a major victory for state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who had asked that the judge impose the maximum penalty.
Judge Douglass North of King County Superior Court ruled on Wednesday that Meta, Facebook’s parent company, intentionally violated Washington law 822 times between 2019 and 2021.
The judge ruled that Meta failed to display all of the information required for public inspection under the state’s commercial advertiser law, according to court documents (pdf).
Because the violations were deemed intentional, they each carried a maximum fine of $30,000.
In total, Mark Zuckerberg’s company was ordered to pay $24.7 million.
The judge also ordered that Meta reimburse the attorney general’s costs and fees and ordered that those fees be tripled “as punitive damages for Meta’s intentional violations of state law.”
Those fees will be determined at a later date, although the attorney general’s office is requesting $10.5 million.
Additionally, the judge ruled that Meta must pay 12 percent interest per year on the total judgment, beginning from the date that the payments are due.
In a statement on Wednesday, Ferguson said that the multimillion-dollar fine represents the largest campaign finance penalty anywhere in the country.
“I have one word for Facebook’s conduct in this case—arrogance,” Ferguson stated.
“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.”
According to the attorney general, the law that Meta violated 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.”
As well as being ordered to pay the hefty fine, Meta was also ordered to “come into full compliance” with the state’s election transparency laws for all political advertising within the next 30 days.
The company must also file a sworn certificate within that same time period stating that it has come into full compliance with the judge’s injunction.
Ferguson has sued Meta twice for its failure to produce campaign advertising records.
The first time he did so was in 2018 for a total of $238,000, at which point Meta agreed to be transparent in campaign finance and political advertising.
However, according to Ferguson, the tech giant failed to make good on its commitment and continued to run political ads in the state without maintaining the required information, prompting the attorney general to file another lawsuit in 2020.
In that lawsuit, the state asserted that Meta violated the campaign finance transparency law, which has been in place since 1972, repeatedly since December 2018, and committed hundreds of violations.
Meta filed a motion earlier this year asking that the court strike down key provisions in the transparency law, prompting the state attorney general’s office to file a responding motion requesting that the court deny Meta’s attempt to do so.
North denied Meta’s motion in September and granted Ferguson’s request for summary judgment, resolving the case without a trial.