Google requested approval from federal regulators for a scheme to allow political emails to pass spam filters.
The Federal Election Commission approved Google’s proposal by a 4-1-1 vote.
Numerous people wrote to the FEC to protest Google’s proposal.
Be prepared to get a ton more political email in your primary Gmail inbox.
4-1-1 on the vote The Federal Election Commission said on Thursday that Google could legally start a trial program for political campaigns that enables them to get through email spam filters while soliciting donations from or otherwise connecting with potential voters and contributors.
Google is now free to invite federal political candidates to sign up for the email pilot program, which would equate to a free ticket out of Gmail’s spam-box purgatory, despite a wave of public outcry that preceded the decision.
The FEC was asked a very specific question: Would Google’s decision to exempt particular political candidates from Gmail spam filters be considered an illegal in-kind political gift, or something of value to political candidates that broke the law already governing campaign finance?
Most commissioners agreed that it wouldn’t. Even a commissioner who wasn’t delighted with the idea of flooding an already overburdened electorate with more political emails came to the conclusion that Google’s program proposal is permissible.
Before voting in support of Google’s request, newly appointed Democratic Commissioner Dara Lindenbaum stated, “I don’t want to, and it’s for the same reasons that all the commenters don’t want to. However, in my opinion, this is permitted under the law, commission rules, and commission precedent.
Along with Lindenbaum, Republican commissioners Allen Dickerson, Trey Trainor, and Sean Cooksey voted in favor of Google’s request.
Democratic Commissioner Shauna Broussard abstained, and Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub opposed it.
This choice was reached after a difficult journey.
The FEC last month unanimously decided to give Americans three additional weeks to comment on Google’s proposal to swiftly permit political committees’ emails to avoid its Gmail spam filters in response to growing public concern over false and exaggerated fundraising efforts.
In addition to the 2,641 comments on Google’s request, the FEC also received 104 comments on a draft of its response.
A analysis of prior instances suggests Google’s request ranks close or at the top, despite the FEC’s claim to Insider that it doesn’t keep track of whose advisory opinion requests throughout the years have drawn the most public comments.
Weintraub moved to accept a different decision before the vote on Thursday, which would have effectively stopped Google from starting its trial program.
The vote was 1-4-1, with Weintraub being the lone supporter of the motion.
Google’s email strategy for politics
Google wants to “launch a pilot program for authorized candidate committees, political party committees, and leadership political action committees,” as stated in its initial request to the FEC. This program would make sure that the emails of accepted committees “will not be affected by forms of spam detection to which they would otherwise be subject.”
According to Google, the goal of their political spam-skirting pilot program is “not to favor or disfavor any particular candidate, party, or speaker, nor to influence the outcome of any election.”
On Thursday, Google attorney Claire Rajan of Allen & Overy LLP informed the FEC that the numerous criticisms of the proposal were “well received” and that “spam is not widely liked by people, as Google is well aware of.
It is impossible to foresee how Gmail users will respond to the program in the real world, Rajan added.
That is the goal of the pilot, she added, adding that we won’t know until we test it.
Any committee that is registered with the FEC and whose emails follow Google’s terms of service and don’t include illegal material like malware or phishing schemes is eligible to apply. Users of Gmail will still be able to choose not to receive political emails, but doing so will require more attention.
Google was concerned about whether its actions might amount to “prohibited in-kind payments” to political organizations, as Rajan explained in a 15-page letter to the FEC on July 1.
Simply put, Google needed confirmation from the government that providing a potentially useful service to politicians and political operatives does not violate any laws. Federal campaign financing regulations may be broken, which could lead to expensive investigations, hefty civil fines, and negative news.
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