Congrats, Eli!
Congrats, Eli! Getty Images

Here at The Stranger we love nothing more than praise and recognition, so we're thrilled to announce that Stranger associate editor Eli Sanders has won the 2019 Bunting Award!

The award is, surprisingly, not an award for decorating cakes, but for Eli's dogged reporting on tech companies' repeated violations of Washington state's campaign disclosure laws. The award is presented by the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) to organizations or individuals for journalistic work that "utilizes, advances, or educates about the state’s Open Public Meetings Act/Public Records Act."

"Eli and The Stranger discovered a threat to the state's open government laws, called out the violators, got the attention of state regulators and alerted citizens," wrote George Erb, a Bunting Award judge. "We had competitive entries from Long Beach to Pullman. All of the stories were watchdog reporting at its finest. But the work by Eli and The Stranger was exceptional. Congratulations."

In case you've missed the dozens of pieces Eli has published since he first started reporting on this issue in December of 2017, here's what Eli's reporting on Facebook and Google's political ad transparency has led to:

  • Lawsuits against Facebook and Google by the Washington State Attorney General, who cited Eli's reporting as a basis for the lawsuits.

  • A $455,000 settlement paid by Facebook and Google to Washington state. According to the state attorney general, this represents one of the largest campaign finance resolutions in state history. We also believe this is the first time Facebook and Google have ever been forced to pay American regulators in connection with political ad transparency violations.

  • Strengthening of Washington State transparency law when it comes to online political ads. In response to Eli's reporting, the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission affirmed that longstanding election transparency rules apply to digital behemoths like Facebook and Google. Then, after Eli reported that Facebook and Google lobbyists were trying to get the Commission to change state law to their liking, commissioners unanimously rebuffed the tech giants' requests—and made the law even stronger.

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  • Decisions by Facebook and Google to halt all local political ad sales in Washington State while they work to come into compliance with this state's tough transparency rules. Google banned local political ads aimed at Washington state races and ballot measures in the summer of 2018, before the fall elections (although Eli has since caught Google repeatedly violating its ban on local political ad sales). Facebook's ban took effect on December 31, 2018 (and Eli has since caught Facebook repeatedly violating its local political ad ban, too).

  • Formal investigations of Facebook and Google by the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission. These investigations were opened by the PDC over the last two months and are currently ongoing. They were launched after Eli reported that Facebook and Google have still been selling local political ads in Washington state despite their supposed bans. Eli also found that Facebook and Google are still refusing to disclose required information about these new political ads. When neither company would make the required disclosures in 2019, Eli filed new complaints with the PDC, which led to these new PDC investigations.

    CONGRATS, ELI! He'll be rewarded with a trophy we hear is bigger than the Pulitzer—like, it's literally bigger—at the annual Madison Andersen Awards Breakfast on Friday, September 20.

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