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Washington attorney general again sues Facebook over campaign ads

UPDATED: Tue., April 14, 2020

Associated Press

SEATTLE – The state of Washington is suing Facebook – again – for selling political ads without disclosing all necessary information about who’s behind them.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson first sued Facebook over the issue in 2018, with the company agreeing to a $238,000 settlement. After that, rather than comply with all of the disclosure requirements of Washington campaign finance law, Facebook said it would no longer sell political ads in Washington.

Despite that, the company has continued to do so. While it maintains digital copies of the ads – along with information about what political group paid for them – in its ad library, the library does not contain all of the information required. Missing data include the address of the ad’s sponsor, the cost and dates of payment, the name of the person paying, and the method of payment.

The attorney general’s complaint, filed Tuesday in King County Superior Court, said since November 2018, Facebook sold hundreds of ads to at least 171 Washington political committees for payments totaling at least $525,000.

The state Public Disclosure Commission asked Ferguson to investigate after finding that Facebook had repeatedly violated campaign finance law.

In an emailed statement, the company said it hopes to resolve the issue. It said its policies do prohibit ads that concern state or local elected officials, candidates, elections or ballot initiatives in Washington.

Facebook has previously said it tries to filter out local political ads in Washington and remove them when it finds them.

“It is our intent to comply with Washington statute to the maximum extent that we can,” Winn Allen, Facebook’s lawyer, told the PDC. “I cannot guarantee you that the PDC will always view Facebook’s responses in 100% compliance.”

Ferguson’s lawsuit seeks to have Facebook fined and required to maintain all of the required information. A judge could order triple the typical penalty upon finding any violations were willful.

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