The Federal Election Commission (FEC) dismissed a Republican complaint alleging that Google was providing financial support to Democrats by flagging their fundraising emails as spam “overwhelmingly” less often than Republicans’, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
The GOP complaint hinged on a March 2022 study from North Carolina State University (NSCU) that found Google’s Gmail app marked 67.6% of GOP fundraising emails as spam, compared to just 8.2% for Democrats, the WSJ reported. The RNC, in addition to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee, alleged that this “overwhelmingly disproportionate suppression” of their emails amounted to an illegal corporate contribution to Democrats.
“Google has credibly supported its claim that its spam filter is in place for commercial reasons and thus did not constitute a contribution,” the FEC argued, according to the WSJ. “Though the NCSU Study [sic] appears to demonstrate a disparate impact from Google’s spam filter, it explicitly states that its authors have ‘no reason to believe that there were deliberate attempts from these email services to create these biases to influence the voters.”
In September 2022, Google rolled out a pilot program — which received the FEC’s approval — allowing political campaigns to bypass its spam filter, in response to mounting pressure from Republicans, Axios reported. As of October 2022, no Republican campaign had enrolled however, with some citing the potential public relations hit from bypassing spam filters and others arguing that the need for a bypass was itself proof that Google was biased, according to The Verge.
“The Commission’s bipartisan decision to dismiss this complaint reaffirms that Gmail does not filter emails for political purposes,” Google spokesman José Castañeda told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “We’ll continue to invest in our Gmail industry-leading spam filters because, as the FEC notes, they’re important to protecting people’s inboxes from receiving unwanted, unsolicited, or dangerous messages.”
The RNC, on the other hand, estimates that Google’s spam algorithms may have cost GOP candidates up to $2 billion since 2019. The organization is also concerned about the potential for Google’s pilot program to be “weaponized” by granting Google access to data about Republican voters and organizations.
“Google cannot explain away how they’ve overwhelmingly and systematically diverted Republican emails to voters’ spam folders while letting Democrat emails through,” RNC spokesman Nathan Brand told the DCNF. “The RNC will continue to hold Big Tech accountable for putting its thumb on the scales to help Democrats win elections,” RNC spokesman Nathan Bran told the DCNF. “Google cannot explain away how they’ve overwhelmingly and systematically diverted Republican emails to voters’ spam folders while letting Democrat emails through. While we’re disappointed that the FEC dismissed this complaint, our lawsuit in California is still pending and we look forward to that playing out in court.”
The FEC Press Office declined to comment on enforcement matters, noting that all enforcement decisions are made public within 30 days of informing the relevant parties.
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