Google, Facebook Accused Of Violating Washington Campaign Finance Laws (Updated)

Update, 6/7/18, 7:20am PT:

According to a Geekwire report, Google has stopped all political advertising in Washington after AG Ferguson sued both Google and Facebook to force them to comply with the relevant local laws.

Alex Krasov, a Google spokesperson, said in a statement:

“We take transparency and disclosure of political ads very seriously which is why we have decided to pause state and local election ads in Washington, starting June 7, while we assess the amended campaign disclosure law and ensure that our systems are built to comply with the new requirements."

Original, 6/4/18, 8:45am PT:

Washington Attorney General (AG) Bob Ferguson filed campaign finance lawsuits in King County Superior Court alleging that both Google and Facebook violated the state’s campaign finance laws.

Google, Facebook And Washington Campaign Finance Laws

More specifically, Ferguson argued in the lawsuit that both Google and Facebook have failed to maintain legally required information for political advertising done in Washington state through the companies’ online platforms since 2013.

Washington state campaign finance laws require commercial advertisers that sell political advertising to maintain information about those who purchase ads. The advertisers are also required to make that information available to the public. Ferguson said that Washington state documents show that candidates have paid $1.5 million to Google and $3.4 million to Facebook for advertisements in the past decade.

Ferguson in a public statement:

“Washington’s political advertising disclosure laws apply to everyone, whether you are a small-town newspaper or a large corporation. Washingtonians have a right to know who’s paying for the political advertising they see.”

He also noted that advertisers are required to collect information such as:

  • 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.

Earlier this April, Fergon’s office received citizen action notices alleging that Google and Facebook haven’t provided any of that legally required information.

Ferguson added that in Washington citizens are also able to ask advertisers about who is paying for the political ads they run. Both Google and Facebook failed to abide by that law when Eli Sanders, the associate editor of The Stranger, hand-delivered a letter to both companies asking them for information on 2017 municipal election political advertising.

Despite all the data gathering both Google and Facebook are doing on their users, the companies don’t seem to have obtained or maintained information required for campaign advertisers, including the names of those who paid for political ads or the total amount of money for which they bought those ads.

The Washington state now seeks penalties and injunctive relief. Google and Facebook will have 20 days to respond to the state’s complaint.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.