Washington state sues Google, Facebook over campaign ad data

The state of Washington has filed campaign finance lawsuits against Google and Facebook, alleging the companies “failed to maintain legally required information on Washington state political advertising” placed online since 2013.

Attorney general Bob Ferguson says commercial companies that accept political advertising are required to keep tabs on who buys the advertising, and make that information available to the public. Collected information includes the name of the candidate or measure, dates the ads ran, who sponsored it, and the total cost spent.

Ferguson alleges Washington candidates and political committees reported about $3.4 million in advertising with Facebook and $1.5 million with Google. But in April, Ferguson’s office received word from state residents that neither Facebook nor Google would provide any of the legally required information of political ads placed on their respective sites. Ferguson says 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. But his office gave one example in 2017 when 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.

The companies have 20 days to respond to the lawsuit filed Monday in state court.

Google did not immediately comment, while Facebook said Ferguson “has raised important questions” and the company looks forward to resolving the matter. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, AP)

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