Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed campaign finance lawsuits in King County Superior Court today alleging Facebook and Google failed to maintain legally required information for Washington state political advertising placed on their online platforms since 2013.
Washington state campaign finance laws require commercial advertisers that sell political advertising to maintain information about those who purchase advertising. The advertisers are also required to make that information available to the public.
According to documents filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission, in the last decade, Washington candidates and political committees reported about $3.4 million in payments to Facebook and $1.5 million to Google related to advertising.
“Washington’s political advertising disclosure laws apply to everyone, whether you are a small-town newspaper or a large corporation,” Ferguson said. “Washingtonians have a right to know who’s paying for the political advertising they see.”
Advertisers are required to collect information on the sources and payments of political advertising and make it available for public inspection. The information advertisers are legally required to collect includes:
- The name of the candidate or measure supported or opposed;
- The dates the advertiser provided the service;
- The name and address of the person who sponsored the advertising; and
- The total cost of the advertising, who paid for it (which may be different than the sponsor) and what method of payment they used.
In April, the Attorney General’s Office received citizen action notices alleging that Facebook and Google had not provided any of the legally required information on political advertisements run on their platforms associated with several Washington state campaigns.
Washington state law allows a member of the public to visit a commercial advertiser during normal business hours and see who is paying for the political advertising they run, and how much the campaign committee is spending.
Facebook and Google did not provide Washingtonians the same opportunity. For example, Eli Sanders, the associate editor of The Stranger, hand-delivered a letter to both companies’ Seattle offices requesting information on 2017 municipal election political advertising, but neither company provided him any of the legally required information.
Google and Facebook did not obtain or maintain all the information required of campaign advertisers, the Attorney General’s Office alleges, including the names and addresses of all persons from whom they accepted advertising, or the total cost and manner of payment.
The state seeks penalties and injunctive relief. The defendants will have 20 days from the date they are served to respond to the state’s complaint.
A summary of Attorney General’s Office campaign finance case resolutions is available here.