The company will reject ads related to ballot measures and state and local elections. Google will send notifications to affected advertisers, the company said.
Google stopped accepting political ads in Washington state on Thursday, just days after state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the company, along with Facebook, saying the tech firms are not obeying state law on political-ad transparency.
The company will reject ads related to ballot measures and state and local elections, according to an AdWords policy update posted on Wednesday. Google will send notifications to affected advertisers, it said.
The ad pause includes Google ads that appear on many websites, as well as YouTube ads.
The company said the temporary move was not directly related to the state lawsuit, but cited ad transparency regulations related to a state law that went into effect Thursday.
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“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,” Google spokeswoman Alex Krasov said in an emailed statement.
HB 2938, which altered a host of campaign-finance reporting requirements and enforcement procedures, was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in March and went into effect Thursday.
In issuing regulations related to that bill, the state Public Disclosure Commission passed an emergency rule that clarified that digital ad companies like Google are subject to state law requiring them to maintain publicly available information about political ads, just like television stations and other media.
The new rules specify that digital ad firms must make information available about online ads as soon as they are published, including descriptions of the geographic areas and locations targeted and the total number of views generated by the ads.
In an email, Krasov said Google views those rules as requiring what amounts to real-time disclosure, and while the company “wants to comply with the newly amended law” its systems “aren’t prepared for the rules as currently written.”
The two lawsuits, filed in King County Superior Court, say the companies have for years been in violation of the law requiring them to keep detailed records about who is paying for online political ads on their platforms.
In a statement Thursday, Ferguson said he was glad to see Google taking the state’s lawsuit seriously.
“In the future, if Google decides to accept money for Washington state elections, I will ensure Google complies with our state’s longstanding campaign transparency laws,” he said.
Ferguson added: “Google can attribute their change in policy three days after our lawsuit to whatever they want, but the fact is the new law did not change the definition of commercial advertiser, which voters first approved more than forty years ago.”
With the Aug. 7 primary around the corner, Google’s political ad pause complicates plans for some state election campaigns.
“It’s a big issue because a lot of our campaigns are shifting to more digital advertising,” said Kevin Carns, political director for state House Republicans.
In addition to Google’s announcement, Carns said campaigns have been dealing with a new verification process launched by Facebook that requires campaigns to provide government identification and physical addresses for political ads and campaign pages. That process has moved slowly, he said, resulting in some political pages being temporarily disabled.
“We’re not claiming any partisan bias. Everybody is in the same boat,” Carns said.
Alex Bond, political director for the Washington Senate Democratic Campaign, said Google ads “are something we’ve done, but they’re not a huge element of our communications programs.”
Bond said he supports holding digital ad firms “to the same standards and levels of disclosure we hold television advertising to.”
Google’s decision does not impact candidates running for federal office, said Andrew Bell, spokesman for Dino Rossi, a Republican running for the 8th Congressional District House seat.
Bell cited an interpretation of the decision by the campaign’s digital consultant. Candidates in federal races report political-ad spending to the Federal Elections Commission rather than the state Public Disclosure Commission, he said.