Twitter to pay $100,000 for violating Washington campaign disclosure law

Twitter will pay $100,000 for failing to retain required records about political ads from Washington candidates that ran over a seven-year period before the social media platform banned all political advertising.

Twitter agreed to pay the fine, which is about half the amount the company received from Washington candidates’ political advertising from 2012 to 2019, to Washington’s Public Disclosure Transparency Account, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Tuesday. The fine comes after Ferguson announced his intention over the summer to sue the company over campaign finance violations

Under Washington’s campaign finance law, commercial advertisers must keep certain information, such as candidates’ names, the cost of the ad and who paid for it and on what date, and the name and address of the ad sponsor. According to the attorney general’s office, at least 38 Washington candidates and committees paid $194,550 for advertising on Twitter, and the company didn’t maintain the required information.

In an emailed statement, Twitter said the resolution is “reflective of our commitment to transparency and accountability. The company ended all political advertising on its platform in November 2019, which was a decision “in line with our belief that the reach of political speech should be earned and not bought.”

In the judgment, Twitter agreed to pay the fine but didn’t waive its ability to contend in the future that its exempt from public transparency laws.

The actions from the Attorney General’s office were prompted by research from Tallman Trask, a University of Washington law student and political activist who requested information from Twitter about a dozen local campaigns. After Twitter failed to provide the requested information, he filed a complaint to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission on Oct. 30, 2019 — the same day Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced the platform would stop political advertising.

Trask called the announcement great news for Washington voters.

“It’s particularly good news for fairness in election advertising in our state,” Trask said in an interview. “It’s a question of whether or not companies are following the laws that the people want in place, and that other companies have followed for decades. It’s more about ensuring fairness than ensuring fines.”

The judgment is part of a series of lawsuits filed by the Attorney General’s office against tech companies related to political advertising. Facebook and Google paid more than $450,000 to settle twin lawsuits in 2018, when Ferguson’s office asserted that the tech giants violated campaign transparency laws.

Facebook and Google announced after the 2018 settlement that each company would stop selling political ads, but continued to do so. Ferguson filed another lawsuit in April against Facebook, saying the company has “repeatedly and openly” violated state laws.

In contrast with Facebook, Twitter had far fewer violations and did not appear to accept political advertisements after its 2019 ban, according to the Attorney General’s office.

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