Posted on
February 18, 2020

PDC conference on digital ads prompts talk of next steps

Commission members recapped what they learned during a Jan. 16 public forum on digital political advertising, "Big Data, Big Dollars: Shining Light on Digital Political Advertising." The Olympia event featured academic and industry experts from around the country. It drew an audience of dozens to the forum and another 150 viewers who watched the event live on TVW.

Commission Chairman David Ammons said the forum helped educate the Commission on best practices surrounding the regulation of digital political advertising. It also allowed them to meet with their counterparts from California's Fair Political Practices Commission.

Ammons said it was good to hear both visitors and expert panelists say they consider Washington state's campaign regulatory system one of the best in the country.

Commissioner Fred Jarrett said the PDC should move forward quickly to decide answers to questions like these:

  • What kind of data might be needed in a PDC political ad archive?
  • Who should provide it?
  • What is the public interest in the data?

He suggested incorporating changes into the redevelopment of the PDC campaign reporting software system an effort already underway.

"We need to think about what we can do to affect campaigns in the near term," he said. "People who can get the most advantage from social media are local campaigns, low-cost campaigns. Finding a way to empower them to use social media in the next election cycle, I think, should be one of our goals."

Jarrett, Commission Vice Chairman Russell Lehman and PDC staff are consulting with fellow regulators, industry representatives and technical experts to begin the early work to determine what a digital political advertising archive might include and what it would take to create one.

Commissioner William Downing suggested the addition of a working journalist to the effort. The Commission's newest member, Nancy Isserlis, added that either candidates or campaign workers should also be invited to participate.

"If we are going to put the responsibility on candidates and campaigns to make this information available, it will be an additional burden," she said.

PDC Executive Director Peter Lavallee said that if the Commission wants to make submission of digital advertisements part of campaign reporting, it would likely need to seek authority to do that from the Legislature.


Lobbyist registrations revoked

Chair David Ammons revoked the registrations of seven lobbyists who had failed to report they completed required training about the new legislative code of conduct.

The deadline to comply was Dec. 31, 2019. Beginning in October, PDC staff sent multiple reminders, first by e-mail and then via letter or phone call, to lobbyists and their employers about the new requirement.

Of the more than 800 lobbyists registered for 2020, seven failed to comply by the January Commission meeting.


Decision on Facebook agreement delayed

Commissioners reviewed a proposed agreement between PDC staff and Facebook, concerning complaints against the social media company filed by two people, one in February 2019 and another in July 2019.

The digital platform is charged with failing to comply with state law requiring commercial advertisers to produce certain information about political ads on request.

Commissioners voted to hold over a decision on the stipulated agreement until their February meeting, in order to allow the two complainants more time to offer comment.


Enforcement stats

Staff briefed the Commission on enforcement actions. Between Nov. 26 and Jan. 7, staff closed 78 cases, opened 30 cases and conducted 12 initial hearings. As of Jan. 23, there were 93 active cases remaining.

Of the closed cases:

  • 27 were closed with a reminder
  • 21 were closed with no evidence of a violation
  • 12 were closed with a formal written warning
  • 7 were closed as unfounded or frivolous
  • 4 were closed with a statement of understanding

The remainder were closed either administratively, by executive director dismissal or with a technical correction.

Case documents can be found here.

Learn more about PDC enforcement of campaign finance laws here.


Next regular Commission meeting: Feb. 27