Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign sued Google on Thursday after the company suspended the candidate’s Google Ads account following last month’s Democratic presidential debate. The campaign alleges the corporation “used its control over online political speech to silence” the candidate.
The campaign said its inability to run Google Ads meant it lost out on campaign donations it could have received if users were directed to the candidate’s website.
After the first Democratic debate last month, Google released data that showed the Hawaii representative was the most searched candidate during the first debate.
To take advantage of that momentum, the suit outlines, the campaign sought to buy Google Ads as a way of directly reaching people who were searching for information about Gabbard.
On June 28, two days after the debate, “Google suspended Tulsi’s Google Ads account without warning,” the suit alleges.
“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,” the campaign alleges.
The campaign takes issue with how Google communicated its reasons for the suspension and it claims Google changed its story.
The details of the suit were first reported by The New York Times.
Responding to the suit, Google spokeswoman Riva Sciuto said in a statement that the company has automated systems that “flag unusual activity on all advertiser accounts — including large spending changes — in order to prevent fraud and protect our customers.”
“In this case, our system triggered a suspension and the account was reinstated shortly thereafter,” Sciuto said. “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.”
The Gabbard campaign, however, alleges in its lawsuit: “Google (or someone at Google) didn’t want Americans to hear Tulsi Gabbard’s speech, so it silenced her.”
On Thursday, after the lawsuit was filed, Gabbard tweeted, “Google controls 88% of internet search in the US — giving it control over our access to information. Google’s arbitrary suspension of the account of a presidential candidate should be of concern to all Americans.”
“Google’s discrimination against our campaign reveals the danger of their dominance & how the dominance of big tech over public discourse threatens core American values. They threaten our democracy & #Tulsi will fight back on behalf of all Americans.”
The campaign also alleges that Google’s email platform Gmail sends emails from the Gabbard campaign to spam folders at “a disproportionately high rate.” Evidence supporting this claim is not outlined in the suit.
CNN has asked Google for comment on the Gmail claims.