Facebook fined $25 million for breaking state election laws

President Donald J. Trump welcomes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, to the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Joiyce N. Boghosian)
President Trump welcomes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Sept. 19, 2019, to the Oval Office of the White House (Official White House Photo by Joiyce N. Boghosian)

Facebook’s parent Meta was fined $25 million Wednesday after a judge in Washington state ruled the company violated the state’s political disclosure laws 822 times during the 2020 election campaign.

King County Superior Court Judge Douglass North ordered Meta to come into compliance with the transparency laws within 30 days and pay attorney’s fees along with the fine, the Seattle Times reported.

North said Meta intentionally violated laws requiring advertisers to “disclose the names and addresses of political buys, the targets of such ads and, the total number of viewers of each ad.”

The lawsuit against Meta was filed by Washington Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who said he had “one word for Facebook’s conduct in this case – arrogance.”

“It intentionally disregarded Washington’s election transparency laws,” Ferguson told the Times. “But that wasn’t enough. Facebook argued in court that those laws should be declared unconstitutional. That’s breathtaking.”

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During the 2020 election cycle, Zuckerberg gave $419 million to two nonprofit organizations that distributed grants to about 2,500 local election departments in five key battlegrounds.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis – whose state became one of the first to ban such private donations, dubbed “Zuckerbucks” – described the operation from his perspective in an interview with WFLA in Tampa Bay.

Zuckerberg, the governor said, “poured $420 million into these non-profit groups and these non-profits would go into communities that were in important states and they’d go to the election office and say, ‘Here’s millions of dollars for you guys, but you gotta bring in our operatives, you’ve gotta ballot harvest, you’ve gotta have mass mail balloting’ and all of this stuff.”

Zuckerberg also influenced the 2020 election through censorship. He admitted in an interview in August with podcaster Joe Rogan that the FBI warned his company to watch out for “Russian disinformation” prior to the 2020 presidential election. That led to Facebook’s censoring of evidence that Joe Biden and his family were selling access to the White House to Chinese Communist Party operatives, Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs, and others.

In September, newly acquired emails showed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fed Facebook false information regarding the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines for children in the social media platform’s crusade against “misinformation.”

A lawsuit against Meta by Ferguson in 2018, alleging violations of transparency laws, prompted a vow by the company to stop selling political ads in the state. But when a report revealed Facebook had continued the practice, Ferguson filed another lawsuit, in 2020.

Facebook claimed the laws “unduly burden political speech” and are “virtually impossible to comply with.”

The state AG filed a motion in July charging Meta had failed to respond to inspection requests regarding the ads, and the case was referred for possible legal action in September 2021.

‘Punish and ruin’
It was Ferguson who brought the high-profile case against a Washington state florist who declined to design a floral arrangement for a same-sex wedding because of her Christian beliefs.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the florist, Barronelle Stutzman, said Ferguson was vindictive, taking unprecedented action in suing her personally for alleged violation of Washington’s nondiscrimination law and the state’s Consumer Protection Act. Ferguson bypassed the human rights commission, which normally takes on discrimination cases, and took on the lawsuit himself.

“This is about sending a message to not only people in Washington state, but to scare those on a national level and to really punish and ruin someone who doesn’t agree with the attorney general’s ideology,” said ADF attorney Kristen Waggoner.

Stutzman said she was “devastated” when she got the news that the U.S. Supreme Court had rejected her case, which “gives Washington state and ACLU the pathway to absolutely destroy me and to threaten anybody else that would happen to think the same way.”

Recounting the financial, mental, physical and spiritual cost of the past eight years, she said that at age 77, it’s “a little late to start over, so it’s very devastating.”

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