Google settles with Washington AG for $423K over political advertisements

Google’s office in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. (GeekWire Photo / James Thorne)

Without conceding it broke state law, Google paid the Washington attorney general’s office $423,659 to settle a lawsuit over the company’s paid political advertising in the state. 

The settlement came after the state accused the tech giant of violating its 50-year-old campaign disclosure law which requires companies that publish political ads to retain financial records of those advertisements and make them available for public inspection. 

Called Fair Campaign Practices Act and approved by voters in 1972, the law was an effort to force disclosure of who was paying for political advertising in the state.  The settlement marks the second time Google has paid the state after being accused of stepping outside the law’s boundaries.

“Google is one of the largest corporations in the world, and should be able to figure out how to follow our campaign finance laws,” Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “Today’s judgment is twice as high as the one Google paid in 2018. Repeat violators of Washington’s voter-approved campaign transparency laws will be held accountable.”

But Google remained defiant about the late even after paying the fine. A spokesperson for the company said the law is the problem, not Google.

“While we continue to take issue with the applicability and enforceability of the State’s political advertising and disclosure laws,” a Google spokesperson said, “we’re settling this case because we believe the best way to resolve this matter is to work collaboratively with Washington State regulators to reform those laws, rather than litigate our position in court.”

Most of the fine will go into the Washington Public Disclosure Transparency Account a smaller portion paying for state attorneys’ fees. 

Google also settled a similar case in 2018 which resulted in Google paying a $200,000 judgment. That same year, Facebook paid the state $400,000 to settle a case for parallel violations of the law. And last year, the state filed another case against Facebook for what it said were continued violations of the same law. 

Facebook, the state said, for the past four years has collected more than $500,000 in political ads for which it didn’t keep legally mandated disclosure records. That case is pending.

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