LOS ANGELES (CN) – Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard says Google owes her $50 million in damages after her campaign’s online ads were taken down without warning for a few hours after last month’s televised Democratic debate.
On Thursday, her campaign Tulsi Now hit Google with a 36-page federal complaint claiming that the day of the first 2020 Democratic presidential debate on June 26, Gabbard’s Google Ads account was deactivated without any explanation.
After the televised debate, if a voter wanted to learn more about Gabbard’s domestic policy platform or where she stands in the war on drugs, they would not have seen her advertisements in the Google search engine, she says. Online advertisements which had links to her campaign website were taken down and her account suspended, according to the complaint.
“For hours, as millions of Americans searched Google for information about Tulsi, and as Tulsi was trying, through Google, to speak to them, her Google Ads account was arbitrarily and forcibly taken offline,” according to the complaint.
What exactly happened is not clear, according to Gabbard’s campaign. Google claimed the Google Ads account violated their terms of service agreement then gave several other explanations before restoring the account, according to the complaint.
“To this day, Google has not provided a straight answer – let alone a credible one – as to why Tulsi’s political speech was silenced right precisely when millions of people wanted to hear from her,” Gabbard says in her complaint.
“This has happened time and time again across Google platforms. Google controls one of the largest and most important forums for political speech in the entire world, and it regularly silences voices it doesn’t like, and amplifies voices it does,” she says.
In a statement, Google said an automated system was to blame.
“We have automated systems that flag unusual activity on all advertiser accounts – including large spending changes – in order to prevent fraud and protect our customers,” a Google spokesperson said. “In this case, our system triggered a suspension and the account was reinstated shortly thereafter. We are proud to offer ad products that help campaigns connect directly with voters, and we do so without bias toward any party or political ideology.”
But Gabbard claims the election manipulation doesn’t end with its search engine. It includes the tech giant’s popular email client, Gmail, where the Gabbard campaign says messages go to spam folders at a disproportionately higher rate than other similar types of emails.
“Google’s arbitrary and capricious treatment of Gabbard’s campaign should raise concerns for policymakers everywhere about the company’s ability to use its dominance to impact political discourse, in a way that interferes with the upcoming 2020 presidential election,” according to the complaint.
She seeks $50 million in damages on claims including violation of her First Amendment rights, breach of implied covenant and good faith and fair dealing, and unfair competition under the Lanham Act.
Gabbard is represented by Los Angeles-based attorney Brian Dunne with Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht.
The congresswoman from Hawaii and military veteran joined a crowded Democratic race for the White House earlier this year.