Hate political email spam? You have little time to express your feelings on a potentially pivotal federal ruling.

·4 min read
Google Gmail illustration
Google has asked the Federal Election Commission to rule on its request to make it easier for political candidates to reach potential donors with email solicitations.Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • Google has asked federal regulators to OK a plan letting political committees avoid spam filters.

  • Gmail users could expect to see more political emails in their main inboxes.

  • A public comment period on the Federal Election Commission case is ending soon.

Google wants to ease its Gmail spam filters when political candidates and committees email you for donations or otherwise try contacting you — and it's asked the Federal Election Commission for its legal blessing.

But few Americans are aware of this pending case. And a deadline for public comment is fast approaching with little publicity from Google or the FEC on the case — or its implication for consumers.

An affirmative ruling by the nation's bipartisan campaign finance regulator could affect tens of millions of Gmail users who could expect more political solicitations landing in their main inboxes unless they proactively opt-out.

"People care about getting spam email, including political email. They have opinions," said Rick Hasen, a law and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine, who edits the Election Law Blog. "The FEC should give the public sufficient time to weigh in on an issue that affects the public in direct way."

The FEC received Google's "advisory opinion" request on July 1 and made it public on July 6. On July 8, in its weekly digest of official announcements, the FEC announced that the public would have until July 11 to comment on Google's request.

But, in an email to Insider, FEC spokesperson Judith Ingram said the public comment deadline would actually be Saturday, July 16. She declined to comment on whether the agency believes it has given the public adequate time to comment on the matter.

Axios in late June first reported Google's intentions to seek a ruling from the FEC.

Federal Election Commission logo
Among its duties, the Federal Election Commission is tasked with providing political committees, corporations, unions, and other political actors with "advisory opinion" rulings that help them interpret campaign finance laws.Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call

What Google wants

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."

Any committee registered with the FEC, whose emails comply with Google's terms of service and don't contain prohibited content such as malware or phishing schemes, could apply to participate.

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.

The FEC's 6-member, bipartisan board of commissioners must decide on Google's request by the end of August. Google has requested the FEC give its request an "expedited review" and rule on it "within 30 days due to the proximity to upcoming elections."

Anne P. Mitchell, an attorney and CEO of the Institute for Social Internet Public Policy, tweeted a comment she already sent the FEC. In it, she argued that it is a "very bad time indeed to give candidates and campaigns such a free pass" given accusations of abusive political email fundraising practices.

More broadly, political campaigns on both the left and right have taken in recent years to blasting out increasingly hyperbolic, clickbait-y, and sometimes misleading emails in search of money. Recipients of such emails sometimes have not signed up to receive them, as campaigns routinely rent lists of email addresses from data brokers or other political committees.

By Tuesday morning, several dozen people had written the FEC about Google's request, according to a list of comments released by the agency. Almost all of those issuing comments expressed displeasure, with many urging the FEC to reject the Google request.

"This is a HORRIFIC idea — My 85 year-old mother gets over 20 emails A DAY from political campaigns — each one screaming that if she doesn't give today, it will be the end of the USA as we know it," one commentor wrote.

"In this divisive time where lies are regularly crammed down the public's throat and our legislators and representatives are without ethics. We need NO more political spam!" wrote another.

The FEC has directed people to email comments about the case to the email address ao@fec.gov.

This article was originally published on July 10 and updated to include new comments received by the FEC.

Read the original article on Business Insider