Google Stops Accepting Political Ads In Washington State

Faced with a lawsuit by Washington state's top law enforcement official, Google has stopped accepting political ads in the state.

Google's new policy applies to ballot measures as well as state and local elections in Washington, the company announced late Wednesday.

The move came one day after state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued both Google and Facebook for failing to comply with a state law requiring companies that run political ads to maintain publicly available information about them. Since 2008, Google has accepted around $1.5 million in political ad revenue in Washington state, while Facebook has accepted more than $3 million, according to the lawsuits.



A spokesperson for Ferguson said he was "glad to see Google is taking our lawsuit seriously."

Washington's ad disclosure law, which dates to the 1970s, requires companies selling political ads to allow members of the public to learn information including the names and addresses of the ad purchasers and the total cost of the ad. That measure applies to companies that sell "the service of communicating messages" -- a definition that is broad enough to cover online platforms that sell digital ads, according to Ferguson's office.

A newer state law, which took effect this week, requires that companies running digital ads make additional information available -- including descriptions of the geolocations and audiences targeted, and the total number of impressions generated by the ad. The newer law also explicitly says it applies to paid digital ads.

Google's decision comes as federal lawmakers are considering new disclosure requirements for online political ads. Last year, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and John McCain (R-Arizona) introduced the Honest Ads Act, which would require some web publishers with at least 50,000,000 monthly viewers to maintain publicly available copies of political ads purchased by groups spending more than a total of $500. The bill would also require those web companies to maintain public records about the target audience, number of views, rates charged, and dates and times of publication.

The Federal Election Commission is also crafting new rules regarding online ad disclaimers. The new scrutiny of online political ads stems largely from revelations that Russian operatives purchased campaign ads that appeared on Facebook, Google and Twitter during the 2016 presidential election cycle.

A Google spokesperson said: "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."

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