February 03, 2022

The Commission voted to adopt amendments to disclosure rules for providers of political advertising.

The primary changes:

  • Give commercial advertisers more time to respond to a request from the public to inspect records about ad buys in cases where the purchaser has not indicated that the content is political advertising.
  • Clarify the scope of demographic information a digital advertiser is required to maintain for public inspection.
  • Require commercial advertisers to retain copies of political ads.
  • Require that the commercial advertiser selling the ad provide its own identification with the ad, if it is published on another platform.

The amended rules will be published in the Washington State Register.

The rules were the product of a multi-year engagement by the PDC to study the how political advertising is evolving in the digital media world. The Commission held a public hearing on the proposed rules in December 2021.

Commission hears a motion in FedEx case

The Commission heard a motion from PDC staff for summary judgment on an alleged violation by FedEx for failure to timely provide requested documents about political advertising services.

The Commission later granted the motion, agreeing that the record showed FedEx failed to comply with state law.

The case grew out of a citizen’s 2019 request for political ads printed and emailed by a Bellevue FedEx office. State law requires commercial advertisers that produce and distribute political ads or electioneering communications to retain certain records. They include records of who purchased the ads or communications, how much they paid and the nature of the services provided.

In the motion, PDC staff said FedEx eventually responded to the citizen’s request, but the responses were not prompt – they came weeks or months after the request. Some of the records were disclosed only after PDC staff discovered reports related to the request and communicated this to FedEx.

Attorney James Frush, representing FedEx, said the company acted in good faith to find the records, but pointed to several factors that contributed to delays.

He said the store manager, concerned about protecting a customer’s privacy, asked the company legal department for permission to disclose the original requested records. Frush pointed to a series of communications between the company and PDC staff that took time. And he said the requester made additional follow-up requests.

The company also argued that FedEx did not believe it qualifies as a commercial advertiser under state law.

The Commission will consider penalties for FedEx’s violation at the Feb. 24 meeting.

Enforcement stats

Between Nov. 16, 2021, and Jan. 18, 2022, PDC staff closed 46 cases resulting from complaints filed by members of the public.

Staff also closed 332 cases that were part of a PDC staff enforcement effort. Most involved candidates and officials who failed to file either a Personal Financial Affairs Statement (F-1) or a campaign registration (C-1), or both, on time.

There were 51 active cases as of Jan. 18, 2022. Browse enforcement cases on the PDC website.

Next regular Commission meeting: Feb. 24, 2022