That was fast. This morning, The Stranger reported on a bill, sponsored by Democratic State Senator Guy Palumbo, that aims to strengthen Washington State's already-tough law mandating transparency in online political ads.
This afternoon, the Internet Association, the lobbying group for tech behemoths like Facebook and Google, sent a letter (.pdf) to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson asking that Sen. Palumbo's bill "be held in the Rules Committee," where it currently sits.
Keeping a bill bottled up in committee is a tried-and-true way of blocking proposed laws.
"While the bill attempts to update a decades-old law on political disclosure, it does so in a manner that does not fully consider how online digital advertising works," Internet Association lobbyist Rose Feliciano wrote to Sen. Nelson.
Outlining the tech lobby's specific concerns with the bill, Feliciano continued:
Digital platforms have numerous small advertisers amid billions of items of content. Many do not collect information such as physical addresses of its users. Yet the bill would require platforms to proactively review numerous personal accounts to determine which are running political ads.
In fact, Washington State law already requires digital platforms like Facebook and Google to disclose, upon request, "the exact nature and extent" of the political ad services they've provided, as well as "names and addresses" of the ad purchasers and a clear money trail.
So does a Seattle law that's at the heart of the current standoff between this city and Facebook over online political ad disclosure.
Sen. Palumbo's bill merely seeks to "make it explicit" that state law applies to "internet or digital advertising." (Even though, as the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission says, state law already applies to internet and digital advertising.)
Regardless, the Internet Association wants Sen. Palumbo's bill stopped—for now.
His bill, the letter from the tech lobby argues, "will create liability risks for internet platforms and privacy concerns for individuals because it requires digital platforms to collect and disclose more information without requiring an advertiser to identify what is a political ad."
This is perhaps a more verbose way of stating what Feliciano already argued in her January 31 testimony against the bill in Olympia.
“The burden should be on the advertiser," Feliciano said then. "They need to be identifying themselves as a political advertiser. The platforms may not necessarily know that.”
The letter continues with this theme of wanting to shift liability from big tech to individual ad purchasers.
The lobbying group for the nation's leading technology companies, Feliciano writes, "respectfully requests the legislation be amended to require the advertiser to self-identify when their ads are covered by the statute, and for the law to allow us to rely, in reasonable good faith, on the information advertisers provide."
I've requested interviews with Senators Palumbo and Nelson about the Internet Association's objections to the proposed transparency law.
I'll report back when I hear more.
UPDATE, 6:05 pm:
Sen. Palumbo forwarded me an e-mail he just sent to Feliciano, the lobbyist for the Internet Association:
Regarding your letter, I am sorry, but I just don’t see it the same way. Just because the digital platform is new doesn’t mean that it’s exempt from our state laws. As you and ... others have pointed out, the industry is fine with reporting to the PDC when required in the instances where an advertiser checks a box saying “this is a political ad.”
Having said that, the industry’s offer on language still leaves a giant hole in disclosure that you can drive a Mack truck through. With your language, I can go drop $1 mil of negative attack ads tomorrow on Facebook, not check the box that it’s a political ad, and you wouldn’t have to report it to the PDC.
That is unacceptable...
I continue to be willing to work with the Tech industry to come to a resolution on this issue.