PDC discusses searchable digital archive of campaign ads

November 21, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Campaign finance officials are discussing the idea of building a searchable digital archive that collects campaign ads and information related to them.

The Seattle Times reports the idea was discussed at a Wednesday meeting of the Senate State Government, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee.

Officials with the state Public Disclosure Commission say a digital archive could shine sunlight on political ads bought through social-media companies like Google and Facebook.

PDC Director Peter Lavallee told lawmakers that a searchable database could also help voters make sense of the increasing amount of election messaging and the sources behind it, “so that all Washingtonians can go and see what ads are in a race that’s relevant to them, what the spending was like, who was targeted, who was reached by that ad.”

A handful of other states are exploring the concept of such an archive, and the New York City Campaign Finance Board, which oversees election disclosure for local races there, already archives independent expenditure ads.

Much campaign-advertising information is public under the state’s public disclosure laws, but it is sometimes fragmented and can be hard to find and piece together.

David Ammons, chairman of the PDC, noted that someone in Washington can go to a TV station to see what types of political ads have been purchased and how frequently they air, or can visit the PDC’s website and find itemized spending lists, which usually give only broad details about a TV ad buy.

In comparison, in New York City’s digital archives, someone can find and watch a TV ad, and see the exact cost and distribution date.

PDC officials say that for now, a digital archive is a broad idea, but they say they hope to study the issue in the coming year and possibly approach state lawmakers in the 2021 legislative session.