Good Government Groups Defend Washington State Disclosure Law, Facing Opposition from Meta
Washington state law protects the rights of voters by requiring online platforms like Facebook to make publicly available information about political ads disseminated on their platforms. The law is an important tool for addressing digital political messages and their unique capacity to micro-target carefully cultivated audiences. Facebook parent company Meta repeatedly violated the law, received an extraordinary fine for its violations, and is challenging Washington’s transparency requirements as unconstitutional. Campaign Legal Center, joined by a coalition of good government groups, has submitted a brief supporting the law.
Seattle, WA – Campaign Legal Center, joined by the League of Women Voters of Washington, Fix Democracy First and the Brennan Center for Justice, today filed an amicus brief in State of Washington v. Meta Platforms supporting a Washington state law that advances voters’ right to know who is spending in their elections.
Meta Platforms, Inc. has challenged the constitutionality of Washington’s Disclosure Law, which provides the public with vital information about spending in state elections by requiring commercial advertisers, including online platforms, to keep and make available records related to the election ads they accept. This measure is critical in light of the dramatic rise in spending on digital political advertising in recent elections and ensures that online ads are held to equivalent standards of transparency as other political advertising. When Facebook allows political candidates and groups to pay for election ads on its platform, it is responsible for disclosing who paid for them and who was targeted and reached.
Meta’s previous failures to comply with this law resulted in a $25 million penalty in 2022 and a decision by the Washington Superior Court ruling that “This is clearly a very appropriate subject for disclosure, and the law is very constitutional.” Meta has appealed the decision to the state Court of Appeals, pressing its argument that the law violates its First Amendment rights. This assertion ignores decades of Supreme Court precedent recognizing that campaign finance transparency laws are constitutional and an important tool to enable voters to make informed decisions when they vote.
“Voters across the country have a right to know which wealthy special interests are spending big money to influence their vote and their government. This case gets to the heart of why that right is essential,” said Tara Malloy, Senior Director for Appellate Litigation and Strategy at CLC. “Thankfully, the state of Washington has made an effort to fulfill that right by passing laws that make information about political ads easily accessible – the result is a more robust debate from a more diverse set of voices, more accountability and less corruption.”
"Meta, and all digital communication platforms, must comply with state disclosure laws and respond to public requests including who bought the ads and what audiences are being targeted," said Mary Coltrane, President, LWV of Washington. “Without the guardrails provided by disclosure laws, the potential harms of digital electioneering will only multiply as technologies continue to advance."
"The people of Washington state need to know who is buying ads for political campaigns, and that includes any political advertising on social media platforms." said Cindy Black, Executive Director of Fix Democracy First. "Fix Democracy First believes disclosure in political campaigns is vital information for voters to make informed decisions. Social media platforms should not be exempt from disclosing the details about who’s behind an ad, as well as who’s being targeted in political advertising."
"Whether a political ad is on TV or a website, citizens have the right to know who's spending money to influence their vote," said Mekela Panditharatne, Counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law. “Digital ads should be held to the same transparency standards as other political advertising. Washington’s disclosure law makes that possible, and it is backed by decades of legal precedent.”
A government that is truly by the people and responsive to the people can only exist if everyone is able to meaningfully participate by choosing their elected officials and holding those officials accountable once in office. If wealthy special interests can avoid disclosure and drown out the voices of everyday Americans by spending millions of dollars on election influence, the values underpinning the First Amendment are significantly undermined.
As political advertising moves increasingly online, disclosure laws like those in Washington have become an indispensable resource to voters. Such laws make it harder to spread disinformation without accountability and easier to assess both who is behind each advertisement as well as the full range of advertisements being fielded – a key piece of an ever-growing puzzle as online platforms give advertisers the ability to microtarget ads to specific, narrow audiences.
Reasonable campaign finance laws, like Washington’s, help ensure that we can live up to the core principles of our constitution and protect the voices of all Americans.