Back in February, after taking more than two months to comply with the City of Seattle's demand, Google released details on 61 political ad purchases made to influence Seattle's 2017 municipal elections.
At the time, Wilson White, Google's director of public policy, told Wayne Barnett, the head of Seattle's Ethics and Elections Commission, that he believed Google's 61-page disclosure of local political ads "satisfies the commission's request." (A request that was made in response to Stranger reporting on Google's lack of compliance with a unique local law.)
But now it turns out that Google's February disclosure was nowhere near complete, in addition to having some other problems.
Last week, Google finished delivering another round of disclosures that added 154 more ad purchases to the 61 ad purchases originally disclosed. The new total—215 Google ad purchases aimed at Seattle's 2017 elections—is more than three times the original number of purchases disclosed by the company. (The company hasn't responded to a question I sent last week seeking an explanation for the big increase in local political ad disclosures.)
You can see Google's entire new disclosure here. There's a lot to go through, but a few important things are immediately obvious:
• The controversial property crime ad campaign launched by failed Seattle City Attorney candidate Scott Lindsay extended further than previously known.
According to Google's new disclosure, Lindsay spent nearly $600 to have his misleading claim about a local property crime plague displayed as many as 580,000 times in the run-up to the 2017 election. (For context: when the ballot counting was all over, only about 142,000 total votes had been cast in Lindsay's race against incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes—with the better-known Holmes winning overwhelmingly.)
Lindsay hasn't replied to a request for comment about his Google ads, but in March he told me that his controversial Facebook ads about property crime were narrow-targeted at certain Seattle neighborhoods, and at certain potential voters within those neighborhoods.
Although Barnett, the Seattle Ethics and Elections director, has said that digital platforms should be disclosing the "intended and actual audiences" for political ads they sell to influence this city's elections, Google hasn't offered any specific targeting information with this new disclosure. That makes it hard to know exactly how Lindsay's Google property crime ads may have been targeted.
• In Google's initial disclosure back in February, zero blatant attack ads were included. But this new disclosure from Google contains blatant attack ads from both Lindsay and Holmes. (Who had a race that, for Seattle, was notably contentious.) It's unclear why attack ads—like the above pro-Holmes Google search ad attacking Lindsay's lack of experience—didn't appear in Google's initial disclosure.
• In addition to failing to disclose the "intended and actual audiences" for all its local political ads, as the City of Seattle says it should, Google's new disclosure fails to comply with new state rules adopted unanimously last week by the Washington Public Disclosure Commission. Those rules don't take effect until June 7, but it's clear that if Google doesn't start beefing up its disclosures it's going to run afoul of state regulators.
Among the disclosures Google is now required to make by the state, but isn't yet offering: the "total number of impressions generated" by each ad (Google is currently only offering a wide range for the possible "number of displays" for each ad); the "advertisement or communication itself" (for video ads, Google is currently only offering a screenshot of one frame from the video, rather than the video itself); and "an approximate description of the geographic locations and audiences targeted" (no targeting information accompanied Google's latest disclosure).
There's certainly more to learn from Google's latest disclosure, which I'm still going through. I'll report back on Slog when there's more to report, and I'll update this post if I hear back from Google or Lindsay in response to my specific questions.