A group of New Deal/Greater Atlanta legislators have filed a lawsuit against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, claiming that the social media network and four of its executives failed to comply with Georgia’s requirement that groups seeking public funding apply for nonprofit status and disclose their income sources. Their claim comes as part of a larger effort by Georgia’s General Assembly to tighten transparency requirements for nonprofits and politicians.
In December, Georgia passed legislation that requires nonprofits that seek public money to register with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office and file regular reports with the state about their finances and revenue. The law also requires every candidate for public office to reveal the source of all campaign funds, while requiring an additional report for groups that raise and spend more than $25,000. The law also targets political action committees.
In response to the new law, the Defenders Fund, a group that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports is controlled by Facebook and Facebook employees, allegedly began soliciting donations to be used to try to keep Raffi Freed-Finkelstein, a prominent Democratic candidate for U.S. House, off the ballot. Freed-Finkelstein is Raff’s cousin and the grandson of the founder of Georgia, Eastman Kodak, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports.
In January, the Defenders Fund sent $5.65 million in donations to “Concerned Citizens for Freedom” — the name of Raff’s Republican opponent in the district, Allen West. Of that total, $1.9 million has since been donated by Raff’s primary opponent. A week later, the Defenders Fund transferred another $3.9 million to “The American Future Fund,” a group whose more recent history appears to be in debt and whose donor list is largely unregulated. The group is partially financed by Facebook, and the AJC reports that Facebook employees, Facebook lawyers, former Facebook lawyers and Facebook executives are the donors listed on its tax filings.
The AJC reports that Georgians for Responsible Leadership, which helped fund the Responsible Citizens and American Future Fund, has also come under scrutiny in recent months for its lobbying of the US Supreme Court on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and another case that dealt with corporate spending in elections. A pre-existing agreement between the group and Facebook at the time of the new Georgia law appears to have been revoked.
In its lawsuit, Georgia’s legislature called out Facebook, Facebook employees, and Facebook executives for violating the law. Georgia’s Attorney General, Leah Ward Sears, is also named in the suit.
“The State is suing because we want candidates and campaigns like Allen West’s to operate under Georgia’s common sense ballot access rules and are asking Mark Zuckerberg and the employees of Facebook to do the same,” Walton County District Attorney Gordon Weekes said in a statement, the AJC reports.
Read the full story at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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