FEC rules Google’s Gmail spams emails on a ‘politically neutral basis’ after RNC complaint
The RNC’s complaint alleged that the spam filter associated with Gmail disproportionately flagged Republican campaign emails as spam during the 2020 election cycle. The complaint also alleged that the spam filter eliminated a major source of political fundraising for GOP candidates and undermined their ability to communicate their messages to the public, resulting in prohibited corporate in-kind contributions to Biden for President.
‘In line with the Commission’s recent precedent, because Google credibly asserts that its spam filter is applied on a politically neutral basis and for a commercial purpose, the Commission finds no reason to believe that Google, LLC, made, and Biden for President and Keana Spencer in her official capacity as treasurer knowingly accepted, prohibited in-kind corporate contributions in violation of [U.S. code],’ the bipartisan FEC panel ruled.
The FEC panel stressed that ‘the available information indicates that Google’s spam filter is in place for commercial, rather than electoral, purposes.’
Republicans had pointed to a nonpartisan study by researchers at North Carolina State University that found Gmail allows the vast majority of emails from the Democratic Party to land in the user’s inbox while more than two-thirds of messages from conservative candidates are marked as spam.
Gmail ‘retained the majority of left-wing candidate emails in inbox (< 10.12% marked as spam) while it sent the majority of right-wing candidate emails to the spam folder (up to 77.2% marked as spam),’ the study found.
During the 2020 election cycle, an RNC official said the study found that Gmail routed Republican emails to spam at a rate approximately 820% higher than similar Democrat fundraising appeals.
Fox News first reported last year on the study, which found that conservative candidates raised $737 million on Republican fundraising platform WinRed from Gmail users in 2019 and 2020. Because just 32% of fundraising emails were delivered, Republicans estimate they missed out on $1.5 billion in contributions during the 2020 election cycle.
But the FEC found that authors of the study note that they ‘have no reason to believe that there were deliberate attempts from these email services to create these biases to influence the voters.’
The FEC also said the lead author has ‘since publicly stated that those who claim the Study demonstrates political bias are mischaracterizing it.’
In a statement to Fox News Digital Tuesday, Google spokesperson José Castañeda said the FEC’s ‘bipartisan decision to dismiss this complaint reaffirms that Gmail does not filter emails for political purposes.’
‘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,’ Castañeda said.
As for the RNC, spokesman Nathan Brand told Fox News Digital that the party ‘will continue to hold Big Tech accountable for putting its thumb on the scales to help Democrats win elections.’
‘Google cannot explain away how they’ve overwhelmingly and systematically diverted Republican emails to voters’ spam folders while letting Democrat emails through,’ Brand said. ‘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 RNC in October said Google was suppressing get-out-the-vote and fundraising emails by sending those messages to users’ spam folders during the midterm election cycle.
Google told Fox News at the time that political affiliation plays ‘no role’ in whether emails are placed in spam folders and pointed to an FEC-approved pilot program ahead of the midterms the company launched to ‘study whether these changes improve the user experience during this election period.’
To gain eligibility to that program, participants were required to meet security and authentication requirements and must comply with Google’s ‘bulk sender best practices.’
Under the program, users stayed ‘100% in control’ of their inboxes, meaning Gmail users were given the choice to mark a message as spam or to unsubscribe. If a user chooses to unsubscribe, the emails don’t just go to spam, but rather stop coming to the users’ inbox altogether, as it requires the campaign or party to remove that user from their distribution list within 24 hours.
Castañeda said that campaigns that hit a 5% spam rate would be removed from the pilot program.
The RNC has warned, however, that pilot program ‘could be weaponized because it demands unprecedented amounts of data from Republican organizations and our voters.’