Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard on Thursday sued Google, claiming the search giant is "intermeddling" in the election. The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Los Angeles, appears to be the first time a major presidential candidate has sued a big tech company.
Gabbard says Google stopped her candidacy from gaining momentum after the first Democratic debate last month by suspending her campaign's advertising account for six hours. The lawsuit also claims Gmail sent Gabbard's campaign emails to people's spam folders more than it did so for other candidates. Gabbard is seeking at least $50 million in damages. News of the lawsuit was earlier reported by The New York Times.
"Google has used its control over online political speech to silence Tulsi Gabbard, a candidate millions of Americans want to hear from," the complaint says. "With this lawsuit, Tulsi seeks to stop Google from further intermeddling in the 2020 United States Presidential Election."
In a statement, Gabbard added, "Google's discriminatory actions against my campaign are reflective of how dangerous their complete dominance over internet search is, and how the increasing dominance of big tech companies over our public discourse threatens our core American values. This is a threat to free speech, fair elections and to our democracy, and I intend to fight back on behalf of all Americans."
The lawsuit comes as Google and other tech giants face increased scrutiny from the federal government. Earlier this week, the US Department of Justice said it's opening an antitrust probe into the Silicon Valley giants, including Google parent Alphabet, to examine the market dominance of the big tech platforms. The Justice Department is also reportedly prepping an antitrust investigation specifically into Google over its search practices and other businesses.
Google said the account suspension was accidentally triggered by the company's software.
"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 spokeswoman said in a statement. "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."
Gabbard's claim is similar to a common refrain from Republicans, who have repeatedly complained Google and other tech giants have an anti-conservative bias. Last December, Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified before Congress to defend the company over the accusations.
Update, 12:46 p.m. PT: Adds statement from Gabbard.