Google and Facebook: It’s not you, it’s us (Part 1)

Beginning today Facebook will join Google by not allowing Washington State political committees to place ads on their platform.

Last June, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed lawsuits against Google and Facebook alleging violations of Washington’s campaign finance laws. The lawsuits alleged that the companies had not been complying with laws that require media companies to collect and publish—or make available upon request—information about political ad purchases.

The disclosure requirements were a result of the passage of Initiative 276, originally passed by a vote of the people in 1972. The law required that television and radio stations, newspapers, and other outlets where political committees could place ads, to make available information about the purchasing entity, quantity of ads, run dates, amount paid, etc. In addition, it created the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) to execute, oversee and enforce the new laws.

During the 2018 Legislative Session, the state legislature passed Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2938, which contained reforms to our public disclosure laws which promoted the PDC to issue emergency rules to implement ESHB 2938. Part of that rulemaking clarified that companies that provide digital advertising to provide real-time reporting of ads placed on their platform. For some types of ads, like banner display ads, this is an impossible requirement to enforce and on others, not something that was offered or just being rolled out.

As a result of the lawsuit and the emergency rule making, Google announced back in June that they could not comply with the real-time disclosure requirements and would be preventing Washington state political committees from placing ads on Google Search and YouTube until they could figure out a solution to comply with the law. Shortly before this, Facebook rolled out their tools for political ad transparency which provides age and gender breakdowns and delivery and spending ranges but that still isn’t enough to comply with Washington state law.

Google and Facebook have agreed to pay more than $400K in fines and attorney fees in a settlement with the Attorney General’s Office. We have serious concerns about the implications of this action and settlement on free speech, equity, and the level of disclosure required on digital advertising compared to other advertising mediums which we will detail in part 2 early next week.

The good news is that you can still reach voters effectively through digital advertising! Contact us today to talk about how to reach your advertising and voter contact goals.

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