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Facebook provided false testimony in campaign transparency lawsuit, Washington attorney general says

David Gutman, The Seattle Times on

Published in News & Features

A Facebook representative provided false testimony in a lawsuit that accuses the social media giant of violating state campaign finance laws, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson alleges in court filings.

Both Facebook and Facebook's attorneys knew the testimony was false, Ferguson says in court filings. He also alleges that Facebook set up a formalized process for people seeking information on political ads that requires them to limit their requests "in direct contravention of Washington law."

Ferguson sued Facebook last year, for the second time, alleging the company has "repeatedly and openly" violated state campaign transparency laws by selling political ads without providing legally required details of the spending.

"Facebook is a commercial advertiser, yet it views itself above this law," Ferguson writes in a new filing. "Even after a previous lawsuit and the original complaint in this case, it still refuses to provide the public access to all required information about political ads."

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has argued, and continues to, that Washington's campaign finance laws are unconstitutional and violate both the First Amendment's free speech protections and the Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce.

In a court filing, it says that it did not provide false testimony because the issue the Attorney General's Office was asking about was outside the agreed upon scope and time frame.

 

Ferguson's first lawsuit against Facebook, filed in 2018 over the same issue, ended with the company paying a $238,000 fine.

Both lawsuits essentially allege the same thing: That Facebook has been selling political ads in Washington without making information, required by state law, about the ads and the people buying them available to the public.

Washington's strict campaign finance laws require ad sellers such as Facebook to disclose specific information on the names and addresses of people who buy ads, who ads target and the total number of views of each ad.

Facebook calls the law "onerous" and says it violates the First Amendment by compelling the company to make political speech — information about who is buying political ads — that it would not otherwise make.

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