Google, Facebook to Pay State

Last week, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced that Google will pay $217,000 and Facebook will pay $238,000 over allegations the companies failed to maintain legally required information for Washington state political advertising placed on their online platforms since 2013.

On June 4, Ferguson filed two campaign finance lawsuits in King County Superior Court asserting Google and Facebook failed to maintain information for political advertising required by Washington state campaign finance laws. These requirements have been in place since 1972, when Washington voters approved the original initiative on campaign finance transparency.

Washington state campaign finance laws require political advertisers to maintain information about those who purchase advertising and make that information available to the public. According to the lawsuits, Google and Facebook did not obtain, maintain, or provide any of the legally required information associated with Washington state campaigns.

“Whether you are a small-town newspaper or a large corporation, Washington’s political advertising disclosure laws apply to everyone,” Ferguson said.

According to documents filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission, in the last decade, Washington candidates and political committees reported about $5.1 million in payments to Facebook and $1.5 million to Google related to advertising.

Washington state law provides the public the right 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 this access. 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. Neither company provided him any of the legally required information.

Under the two judgments signed by the court today, Facebook and Google are legally required to pay the state as follows:

  • Google: $200,000 and an additional $17,000 in attorney’s costs and fees to the state.
  • Facebook: $200,000 and an additional $38,500 in attorney’s costs and fees to the state

Ferguson’s recoveries in these two cases will go into the state Public Disclosure Transparency Account as required by law. The transparency account was created as part of campaign finance legislation in the 2018 legislative session.

In response to Ferguson’s lawsuit, Google stopped taking purchases of political ads in Washington state and local elections. Any political advertiser, including Google and Facebook, who does not provide the legally required information is subject to complaints and regulations through the Public Disclosure Commission.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Linda Dalton and Assistant Attorney General Todd Sipe handled the cases.

A summary of Attorney General’s Office campaign finance case resolutions is available here.

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