The Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit Friday asking a California court to require Google to stop sending hordes of Republican politicians’ campaign emails to Gmail users’ spam folders.
The RNC alleged seven counts against Google in its lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, including violation of California’s common carrier law, unfair competition, discrimination and negligence.
The committee is seeking a judgment that Google’s political email spam practices are illegal, an order banning Google from spamming RNC’s emails to supporters, and compensatory damages.
Google has pushed “millions of RNC emails en masse to potential donors’ and supporters’ spam folders during pivotal points in election fundraising and community building,” the lawsuit alleges.
RNC told MRC Free Speech America on Oct. 3, that Gmail suppressed over 22 million get-out-the-vote and fundraising emails during the last three days of September. That continued a consistent trend in which the inbox delivery rate for Republican campaign emails sent to Gmail users has plummeted to nearly zero at the end of the month for 10 straight months, according to the RNC.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) in August issued an advisory opinion stating that a pilot program Google pitched to ensure more political campaign emails from both parties reach users’ inboxes did not violate election law. The program proposed that political campaign emails would flow directly to Gmail users’ inboxes unless users affirmatively opt for those emails to be sent to spam instead.
The approved pilot came after a March North Carolina State University study exposed that Gmail marked 67.6 percent of right-leaning candidates’ emails as spam and just 8.2 percent of left-leaning candidates’ emails as spam.
Republicans knocked Google for its proposal. Republican Sens. Steve Daines (MT) and John Thune (SD) joined the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in expressing doubt that Google will shore up its documented left-leaning spam filter bias, even after the FEC approved Google’s pilot proposal.
FEC advisory opinions are very strict, and require involved parties to implement 100 percent of the facts outlined within those opinions, Foundation for Accountability and Civil Trust Executive Director Kendra Arnold told MRC Free speech America.
“With [FEC] advisory opinions, they say, ‘If you stick a hundred percent to those facts, it’s not a violation,’” Arnold said. “If you deviate at all from that, they can still find a violation.”
The strict requirements of FEC advisory opinions mean that if there’s any question whether the covered entity broke from the prescribed FEC guidelines, an interested party can bring further litigation to the FEC, Arnold added.
The question of whether Google is violating election law comes down to whether the company’s email service is “filtering out” certain candidates, including either conservative or liberal candidates, for example, Hans von Spakovsky, manager of The Heritage Foundation’s Election Law Reform Initiative, told MRC Free Speech America.
“If their filtering system, their algorithm system, is actually allowing certain campaigns to get through and others not, then they’re not keeping to the parameters of the [FEC] advisory opinion and they’re violating what the FEC said they could do,” said von Spakovsky, who served on the FEC between 2006 and 2007.
In a statement Monday to MRC Free Speech America, Google denied any actions to filter emails based on political affiliation.
“As we have repeatedly said, we simply don't filter emails based on political affiliation,” Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said in a statement to MRC Free Speech America. “Gmail’s spam filters reflect users’ actions. We provide training and guidelines to campaigns, we recently launched an FEC-approved pilot for political senders, and we continue to work to maximize email deliverability while minimizing unwanted spam.”
The RNC lawsuit argued that the evidence against Google remains “egregious.” This is even after the FEC approved the company’s proposed pilot to supposedly address email bias against Republicans.
“At approximately the same time at the end of each month, Google sends to spam nearly all of the RNC’s emails,” the lawsuit says. “Critically, and suspiciously, this end of the month period is historically when the RNC’s fundraising is most successful. It doesn’t matter whether the email is about donating, voting, or community outreach.”
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