The US Federal Election Commission approved a Google plan on Thursday to let campaign emails bypass Gmail spam filters. The FEC’s advisory opinion adopted in a 4-1 vote said Gmail’s pilot program is permissible under the Federal Election Campaign Act and FEC regulations “and would not result in the making of a prohibited in-kind contribution.”
The FEC said Google’s approved plan is for “a pilot program to test new Gmail design features at no cost on a nonpartisan basis to authorized candidate committees, political party committees, and leadership PACs.” On July 1, Google asked the FEC for the green light to implement the pilot after Republicans accused the company of giving Democrats an advantage in its algorithms.
Republicans reportedly could have avoided some of their Gmail spam problems by using the proper email configuration. At a May 2022 meeting between Senate Republicans and Google’s chief legal officer, “the most forceful rebuke” was said to come “from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who claimed that not a single email from one of his addresses was reaching inboxes,” The Washington Post reported in late July. “The reason, it was later determined, was that a vendor had not enabled an authentication tool that keeps messages from being marked as spam, according to people briefed on the discussions.”
As Techdirt’s Mike Masnick explained, “[I]t sounds like Rubio’s spamming operation didn’t set up a DKIM/DMARC authentication setup. I know this is plaguing lots of folks. Hell, it’s something we’ve had to deal with at Techdirt after we realized that Google was sending a lot of our emails to spam. But rather than whine about ‘bias’ against us, we explored the details and figured out how to fix our email configuration.”
Republicans cited a study to support their claims of bias, but one of the study’s authors said Republicans misrepresented the findings. The Democratic National Committee told the FEC that Gmail’s plan will help Republicans expand the use of “abusive fundraising tactics.”
Gmail users don’t want this
Gmail users who submitted comments to the FEC overwhelmingly criticized Google’s plan. The FEC received over 2,500 comments, which can be found on the docket page.
The commission’s three Republicans and Democratic Commissioner Dara Lindenbaum voted for the order approving Google’s plan. The Hill wrote that “Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat who voted against the order, said she has ‘a hard time getting around the fact that this is a unique benefit offered to political committees, and only to political committees.'”
Lindenbaum reportedly said, “I don’t want to [support this], and it’s for the same reasons all the commenters don’t want to, but I think the law and commissioner regulations and commission precedent permits this.” Democrat Shana Broussard abstained from the vote.
“We appreciate the FEC’s speedy review of our request and we will reflect on the positive and negative feedback received during the public comment period,” Google said in a statement provided to Ars. “Our goal during this pilot program is to assess alternative ways of addressing concerns from bulk senders, while giving users clear controls over their inboxes to minimize unwanted email. We will continue to monitor feedback as the pilot rolls out to ensure it is meeting its goals.”