Defending Transparency Rules in Washington State (Washington State v. META Platforms, Inc.)
At a Glance
Meta Platforms, Inc. has challenged a Washington state law requiring online platforms to provide information to the public about the funding and targeting of political ads run on their platforms. CLC is supporting the state of Washington in its defense of this disclosure law.Back to top
About this Case
Under Washington State law, commercial advertisers that run election-related advertising must maintain certain records about the ads purchased on their platforms and disclose that information if requested by a member of the public. The required information includes the content of the ad, the identity of the person who paid for it, and the amount paid. Social media companies must also disclose the demographics of the audiences targeted and reached by the ad.
Between 2018 and 2021, Meta (the parent company of Facebook) repeatedly failed to comply with this law. In response to the Washington Attorney General’s enforcement action concerning these violations, Meta challenged the constitutionality of the law. In 2022, a trial court in Washington found for the State, ruling that the challenged law covered “a very appropriate subject for disclosure, and . . . is very constitutional,” and ordering a $25 million penalty against the platform. Meta appealed this decision, arguing that the law violates its First Amendment rights.
CLC, joined by the League of Women Voters of Washington, Fix Democracy First and the Brennan Center for Justice, has filed an amicus brief supporting the State of Washington in defending the disclosure law. CLC’s brief explains why the law is important in enabling state advocacy groups like the League of Women Voters and Fix Democracy First to obtain vital information about who is financing the advertising influencing voters’ choices. The brief also explains how the significant rise in online political spending presents a new threat to democracy by facilitating the spread of misinformation and exacerbating political polarization. Laws requiring transparency and disclosure can help address this problem.
What's At Stake?
Washington’s law is consistent with long-standing Supreme Court precedent on campaign finance disclosures, and in fact advances First Amendment principles by contributing to a more informed voting public.
As political advertising moves increasingly online and federal regulations have failed to keep up—and tech platforms have failed to self-regulate—disclosure laws like Washington state’s have become an important protection for voters. Such laws make it harder to spread disinformation without accountability and easier for voters to assess both who is behind each advertisement as well as the full range of advertisements being fielded. Disclsoure thus provides a key piece to solving the ever-growing puzzle of online electioneering as platforms give advertisers the ability to microtarget ads to specific, narrow audiences and to spread political messages widely and anonymously.