Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed suit against Facebook and Google on Monday, alleging that the tech giants aren’t complying with a state law requiring them to disclose basic information about political advertising on their platforms, including the cost of any given ad campaign and the identities of the people behind specific political ads.
The complaints, filed in King County Superior Court in Seattle, cite requests made by Eli Sanders, associate editor of The Stranger newspaper, seeking information about 2017 political advertising for municipal elections. Sanders explains in a post today that he requested the information more than six months ago in person at the Seattle offices of the two tech giants, in accordance with a Washington state law that dates back to 1972.
The AG’s office cites Public Disclosure Commission records showing that Washington candidates and political committees paid $3.4 million to Facebook and $1.5 million to Google for advertising over the past decade. The lawsuits allege that the companies “failed to maintain and make available for public inspection documents and books of account specifying statutorily required information concerning political advertising on their platforms.”
Transparency in political advertising on online platforms is a hot-button issue in local, state, and national races following revelations about Russian meddling in the 2016 elections. Ferguson has relied on support from the tech industry in his actions against President Donald Trump on immigration and other issues, but also hasn’t shied away from pursing litigation against tech companies.
GeekWire has contacted Facebook and Google for comment.
In a statement to The Stranger, a Facebook executive said, “The tools we are introducing set a new standard for transparency in digital advertising. We are eager to hear people’s feedback as they use these features and will continue to explore how to build upon them to ensure people know who is behind the political ads they see on Facebook. Attorney General Ferguson has raised important questions and we look forward to resolving this matter with his office quickly.”
Google told the newspaper that it’s “committed to transparency and disclosure in political advertising” and is reviewing the complaint.