Google Sued In Washington State Over Political Ads -- Again

Google continues to violate a Washington state law that requires the company to disclose information about buyers of political ads, Attorney General Bob Ferguson alleges in a new case against the company.

The company, which was previously sued by Ferguson for allegedly violating the law, said in 2018 that it would stop accepting political ads in the state.

Ferguson's new lawsuit alleges that Google has not followed through with that promise.

“Google continued to accept payments for and provide political advertisements or electioneering communications in Washington State and local campaigns through its advertising networks,” Ferguson's office says in a complaint filed Wednesday in King County Superior Court.

In 2020 alone, candidates and political committees reported paying $167,323 “related to political advertising on Google’s advertising networks,” the complaint alleges.

The attorney general adds that the total revenue from political ads could be more than the amount reported by candidates.

“Due to Google’s widespread failure to comply with state campaign finance disclosure laws, it is unknown how many additional Washington political advertisements or electioneering communications Google accepted or provided on its advertising networks that were not reported to the Commission -- whether sponsored by noncompliant campaigns, dark money sources, or other political actors,” the lawsuit says.

Google says it doesn't accept Washington state election ads.

“Advertisers that submit these ads are violating our policies and we take measures to block such ads and remove violating ads when we find them,” a spokesperson said Thursday. “We have been working cooperatively with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission on these issues and look forward to defending this litigation.”

Washington's advertising 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."

newer state law, which took effect in 2018, 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 applies to paid digital ads.

In 2018, Google and Facebook agreed to pay more than $450,000 to settle claims that they violated that law.

Google agreed to pay $200,000 and $17,000 in attorney's fees and costs, while Facebook said it would pay $200,000 and an additional $38,500 in fees and costs.

Last April, Ferguson alleged in a new lawsuit that Facebook was continuing to violate the law.

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