Google says it will stop running state and local election ads in Washington state, citing new rules that require what amounts to real-time disclosure of detailed information about election ads in response to public records requests.
The company has never before paused election ads in a U.S. state. Google says it wants to comply with the law, but its systems aren’t prepared for the rules as implemented. Starting Thursday, Google AdWords won’t accept ads for candidates or ballot measures in the state.
Google’s decision was announced Wednesday evening in an AdWords policy update. The new state rules go into effect Thursday, less than a month after they were approved by the state Public Disclosure Commission as part of implementing HB 2938. The law, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in March, is meant to bring more speed and transparency to campaign ad disclosures.
“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,” said Alex Krasov, a Google spokesperson, in a statement to GeekWire.
The company did not provide a timeline for resuming political ads in the state.
“PDC staff were unaware of Google’s concerns,” said Kim Bradford, spokesperson for the Public Disclosure Commission, via email Wednesday night. “We will review the reason given for the decision and follow up with the company if appropriate.”
Earlier this week, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed suit against Facebook and Google, alleging that they hadn’t followed existing state law for disclosing campaign finance information. 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.
The new rules approved by the Public Disclosure Commission add extra requirements to state campaign finance law. They say digital communication platforms must provide information including “approximate description of the geographic locations and audiences targeted, and total number of impressions generated by the advertisement or communication” in response to public disclosure requests.
The rules say the information “must be made available as of the time when the advertisement or communication has initially received public distribution or broadcast.”
Google’s AdWords policy update reads, “Starting June 7th, 2018, ads related to ballot measures and state and local elections in the state of Washington, U.S.A., will not be accepted. Notifications will be sent to affected advertisers, and the Political content policy page will be updated on June 6th.”
Updated at 7:45 p.m. with comment from state Public Disclosure Commission.