Washington State Senator Guy Palumbo (D-Maltby) had sponsored a bill to make it extra clear that companies like Facebook must disclose local political ad data. Today, that bill died in committee.
Washington State Senator Guy Palumbo (D-Maltby) had sponsored a bill to make it extra clear that companies like Facebook must disclose data on local political ads. But big tech had "concerns." Courtesy Sen. Palumbo

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A bill intended to give additional force to a unique Washington State law on political ad disclosure has died, according to the bill's sponsor, Democratic State Senator Guy Palumbo.

Today is the deadline for all newly proposed laws to make it out of their houses of origin in Olympia, but Sen. Palumbo's measure, which sought to underscore already-existing requirements for transparency in online political ads, is still stuck in the committee where it started.

That's exactly what the Internet Association, the lobbying arm of the nation's tech titans, said it wanted.

“I am disheartened to say that the bill looks dead for this year," Sen. Palumbo told The Stranger.

The Internet Association, which contended in a Monday letter that Sen. Palumbo's bill "does not fully consider how online digital advertising works," has not yet responded to a request for comment. But its lobbyist in Olympia had expressed "concerns" that the transparency bill created too great a burden for digital media giants.

Sen. Palumbo pointed out, however, that existing 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 ad payment details and the "names and addresses" of ad purchasers). So does a Seattle law that Facebook, according to this city's Ethics and Elections Commission director, is notably failing to follow.

That means today's victory for the tech lobby doesn't change much.

"As The Stranger has previously reported, the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission believes they already have the authority to regulate online ad platforms," Sen. Palumbo said. "I predict that they will use their rule-making authority to enforce transparency laws. I am not a lawyer, but I also suspect that tech companies are going to have serious legal liability if they don’t adhere to the law before the 2018 primary election.”

Both Facebook and Google have already been told by Wayne Barnett, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission director, that they need to turn over requested political ad details related to Seattle's 2017 municipal elections.

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Facebook recently offered Barnett a two-page spreadsheet that he said "doesn’t come close to meeting their public obligation." Barnett is now in consultations with the City Attorney's office about next steps.

Google, for its part, says it plans to "complete a production of information it has identified as responsive" by February 21 at the latest.

The state Public Disclosure Commission, which also enforces laws that cover Seattle elections, says it is watching these developments closely.