Facebook parent company Meta has been ordered to pay $10.5 million (nearly Rs. 86 crore) in legal fees to Washington state atop a nearly $25 million (nearly Rs. 200 crore) fine for repeated and intentional violations of campaign finance disclosure laws.
King County Superior Court Judge Douglass North issued the legal-fee order Friday, two days after he hit the social media giant with what is believed to be the largest campaign finance fine in the US history, The Seattle Times reported.
North ordered the company to pay by wire transfer, check or money order within 30 days. The money is to go to the state Public Disclosure Commission, which enforces campaign finance laws.
North imposed the maximum fine allowed for more than 800 violations of Washington's Fair Campaign Practices Act, passed by voters in 1972 and later strengthened by the Legislature. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson argued that the maximum was appropriate considering his office previously sued Facebook in 2018 for violating the same law.
Meta, based in Menlo Park, California, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment, the newspaper reported.
The company previously said it was assessing its options with respect to the ruling.
Washington's transparency law requires ad sellers such as Meta to keep and make public the names and addresses of those who buy political ads, the target of such ads, how the ads were paid for and the total number of views of each ad. Ad sellers must provide the information to anyone who requests it. Television stations and newspapers have complied with the law for decades.
But Meta has repeatedly objected to the requirements, arguing unsuccessfully in court that the law is unconstitutional because it “unduly burdens political speech” and is “virtually impossible to fully comply with.” While Facebook does keep an archive of political ads that run on the platform, the archive does not disclose all the information required under Washington's law.
In 2018, following Ferguson's first lawsuit, Facebook agreed to pay $238,000 (nearly Rs. 2 crore) and committed to transparency in campaign finance and political advertising. It subsequently said it would stop selling political ads in the state rather than comply with the requirements.
Nevertheless, the company continued selling political ads, and Ferguson sued again in 2020.
Meta, one of the world's wealthiest companies, reported quarterly earnings Wednesday of $4.4 billion (nearly Rs. 36,200 crore), or $1.64 (nearly Rs. 130) per share, on revenue of nearly $28 billion (nearly Rs. 2,30,400 crore), in the three month period that ended September 30.
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