Dem campaign committees push Google to 'reconsider' decision to restrict political ads

Dem campaign committees push Google to 'reconsider' decision to restrict political ads

The Democratic Party's national campaign committees on Friday pressed Google to "reconsider" its recent decision to restrict political advertisements, escalating a pressure campaign against the tech giant over a policy change that will restructure how politicians and campaigns advertise online.

The joint statement from the Democratic Party's most powerful campaign arms came several days after Google — which controls about 43 percent of the online advertising market — announced that it will no longer allow advertisers to micro-target political ads using real-world voter information, significantly paring down political advertisers' ability to get their messages in front of the audiences they want.

"A blanket ban on all political advertising is a cop-out that fails to combat disinformation and harms voters’ ability to participate in our democracy, affecting voters of color in particular," the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) said in a joint statement.

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The statement also served as a warning to Facebook, which is currently mulling changes to political advertising on its own platform.

"We call on these tech companies, including Google, to reconsider their decision to bluntly limit political advertising on their platforms, and we invite them to engage in an open and transparent conversation about how we effectively regulate political advertising online," the campaign arms said.

The statement was attributed directly to the DNC's chief Seema Nanda, DSCC executive director Scott Fairchild and DCCC executive director Lucinda Guinn.

On Wednesday, Google announced it will only allow political advertisers, like campaigns and politicians, to target their advertisements based on age, gender and zip code. The tech giant will no longer allow political ads to target users based on their political leanings or other more granular details. But likely the most disruptive change is that advertisers will no longer be allowed to combine their own voter lists with Google's trove of information on what users do online, a powerful combination that enabled unprecedented levels of targeting. Google's policy change applies to search and Google-owned YouTube as well. 

Democratic and Republican strategists alike have expressed dismay at the policy change, which came amid escalating scrutiny of how tech platforms police the political advertisements on their platforms.

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"Political elites & Big Tech want to rig elections - Dem primary & 2020 included," Brad ParscaleBradley (Brad) James ParscaleMORE, President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE's campaign manager, tweeted. "They’re targeting Trump because he’s the big dog, but they’re also after Dems like Sanders & Warren."

Twitter announced that it will no longer host advertisements from politicians or campaigns at all, claiming it no longer wants to sour political discourse by allowing individuals to "pay for reach." 

But political campaigns largely rely on Google and Facebook, which control the vast majority of the online advertising market, to get their messages in front of voters.

The DNC has spent more than $1.5 million advertising on Facebook since May 2018, while the DSCC has spent more than $2.8 million, according to Facebook's ads archive. Over that same time period, the DSCC spent more than $1 million on Google advertising while the DNC and DCCC spent hundreds of thousands, according to Google's ads transparency report.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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It's unlikely that Google will reverse on its policy change. But Facebook has not yet announced how it might change its political ads policy.

Facebook found itself at the center of a political firestorm earlier this year when it announced that it will allow politicians to lie in advertisements. The tech giant has continually defended the policy as an effort to allow uncensored political discourse on its platform. But it has faced enormous pushback over the policy, as lawmakers and critics accuse the platform of profiting from misinformation. 

The DNC, DCCC and DSCC in the statement said they support tech companies playing "a more active role in regulating the content on their platforms." Google on Wednesday said it will fact-check some political ads. 

"We stand in full support of tech platforms removing demonstrably false content and instituting better transparency standards," they wrote, hitting Facebook's current policy. But, they added, "tech companies should not reduce the power of the grassroots just because it is easier than addressing abuse on their platforms."