Facing public outrage, federal officials have given Americans more time to weigh in on Google's plan to relax spam filters for political emails
- The company asked the
Federal Election Commissionfor permission — and to move quickly.
Facing growing public outrage over misleading and hyperbolic fundraising pitches, the Federal Election Commission unanimously agreed to give Americans three more weeks to critique Google's request to quickly allow political committees' emails to skirt its Gmail
If Google gets its way, Americans could expect significantly more political fundraising and communications emails to hit their main inbox instead of disappearing into their spam folders.
The unanimous decision Thursday of the 6-member, bipartisan Federal Election Commission follows a recent Insider report about how the public had little knowledge of the obscure but potentially pivotal case for
The FEC originally stated the public had until July 11 to issue feedback on Google's request, which became public July 6. Regulators then revised the deadline to July 16 before officially extending it Thursday to August 5.
"Insider's coverage of the short comment period caught the Commission's attention," said an FEC staffer familiar with the commissioners' deliberations but not authorized to speak on the record.
Added Democratic Commissioner
"Both as a long-time Google (Gmail) user as well as a voting citizen in this country, I plead with you not to allow unsolicited political emails to be sent to Gmail users," one commenter wrote on July 12. "There is no conceivable benefit for the user and, instead, poses security risks, abuses to their privacy, and opens the door for further foreign influence in our country's elections."
Another wrote: "You are clearly aware that you are allowing corporate profiteers to manipulate the system & get unfair advantage by: 1. FAILING to adequate inform the public 2. FAILING to extend the time the public can respond."
Republican FEC Commissioner Trey Trainor expressed concern Thursday that the FEC hadn't yet proposed or drafted an official response to Google, and that beyond Google's request itself, "the public has nothing to comment on."
He also lamented that the commission, in general, is often slow to make decisions, and that regulated companies such as Google are "moving more quickly than we are."
Nevertheless, Trainor voted to extend the comment period, citing the FEC having initially, and erroneously, advertised the public comment deadline as July 11.
"We need to get it right every time," he said.
The FEC has directed people to email comments about the case to the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Google's political email plan
As described in its request to the FEC, Google wants to "launch a pilot program for authorized candidate committees, political party committees, and leadership political action committees" that would ensure the emails of accepted committees "will not be affected by forms of spam detection to which they would otherwise be subject."
Google said that its spam-skirting political pilot program is "not intended to favor or disfavor any particular candidate, party or speaker, nor intended to influence the outcome of any election."
However, Google's concerns — articulated in a 15-page letter to the FEC from Allen & Overy LLP attorney Claire Rajan on July 1 — center on whether its efforts would constitute "prohibited in-kind contributions" to political committees.
Put simply: Google wants the government's reassurance that it isn't breaking any law by giving politicians and political operatives a potentially valuable service. Suspected violations of federal campaign finance laws can result in costly investigations and potential civil fines, say nothing of bad press.
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