For the past decade, Washington State Public Disclosure Commission documents show political candidates and committees have spent $3.1 million and $1.5 million in advertising with Facebook and Google respectively.
Yet, since 2013, the tech giants have failed to comply with their legal obligations to maintain records of political advertisers and provide them for public inspection, according to a pair of lawsuits filed by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
The lawsuits were sparked by reporting in Seattle's alternative newspaper the Stranger and a self-proclaimed "public records hound," 25-year-old Conner Edwards. Stranger editor Eli Sanders and Edwards were both denied access to Google and Facebook's political advertising records, if any exist at all, according to the lawsuits.
State law requires commercial advertisers who sell political ads to keep records of political candidates' names, ballot measures, the dates of the advertisement, names of the people who purchased the ads, the total cost and the method of payment.
Both lawsuits ask for Facebook and Google to pay for the AG's cost of investigating and litigating the cases, as well as penalties to be determined at trial. State law allows for up to a $10,000 fine for each violation.
Facebook and Google did not immediately respond to Inlander requests for comment, though in emailed statements to the Stranger, both companies expressed interests in working with the AG to resolve the alleged violations.