Reason Roundup

FEC Finds Google Isn't Deliberately Biased Against Republicans

Plus: DEI trainings don't work, a case for compensating organ donors, and more...


"No reason to believe" Google tried to use spam filters to benefit Democrats. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has cleared Google of allegations of deliberate bias against Republican campaign emails that amounted to campaign contributions to Democratic candidates.

These allegations surfaced in 2022 in response to a study from North Carolina State University. Researchers there looked at the automatic spam filters—algorithms that attempt to ferret out spam and send it to a separate folder—used by Gmail, Microsoft Outlook, and Yahoo! Mail. To do so, they created accounts on all three and used these accounts to sign up for a slew of Republican and Democratic campaign emails.

Initially, "Gmail marked 59.3% more emails from the right candidates as spam compared to the left candidates, whereas Outlook and Yahoo marked 20.4% and 14.2% more emails from left candidates as spam." But once the researchers intervened a little—marking campaign emails as not spam, opening and reading emails, etc.—"the biases in Gmail almost disappeared, but in Outlook and Yahoo they did not," as lead researcher Muhammad Shahzad told The Washington Post.

A Google spokesperson told the Post the study "has major flaws," including "an exceedingly small sample size, [an] outdated two-year-old data" and failing to account "for whether candidates optimized their domains to send bulk emails." Meanwhile, Republican strategist Erick Erickson suggested the study findings could be attributed to Republican campaigns sending out spam-like emails. "Republican consultants are blaming Google and Apple for blocking their emails. But when you have a sense of the daily volume, you realize Google and Apple are helping their users while GOP consultants are abusing their email lists," he tweeted last August.

Many Republican politicians seized on the study as "proof" that a big tech company was biased against them, perhaps even intentionally so. Sen. Steve Daines (R–Mont.) opined that the study "unmistakably exposed Big Tech's most egregious attempt to tilt the scale toward left-wing candidates."

A group of Republican senators even introduced a bill to ban any email service from using algorithms to automatically apply spam labels to any political campaign emails.

Republicans also filed a complaint with the FEC. More from the Wall Street Journal:

The Republican National Committee and others contended that the alleged benefit amounted to unreported campaign contributions to Democrats. But in a letter to Google last week, the FEC said it "found no reason to believe" that Google made prohibited in-kind corporate contributions, and that any skewed results from its spam-filter algorithms were inadvertent.

"Google has credibly supported its claim that its spam filter is in place for commercial reasons and thus did not constitute a contribution" within the meaning of federal campaign laws, according to an FEC analysis reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The FEC said it has now closed its file on the issue.

"The Commission's bipartisan decision to dismiss this complaint reaffirms that Gmail does not filter emails for political purposes," Google spokesman José Castañeda said. "We'll continue to invest in our Gmail industry-leading spam filters because, as the FEC notes, they're important to protecting people's inboxes from receiving unwanted, unsolicited, or dangerous messages."


Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) trainings don't work, writes Jesse Singal. Not only is there little evidence to suggest they have a positive impact but "the specific type of diversity training that is currently in vogue—mandatory trainings that blame dominant groups for D.E.I. problems—may well have a net-negative effect on the outcomes managers claim to care about," he writes in the New York Times:

Over the years, social scientists who have conducted careful reviews of the evidence base for diversity trainings have frequently come to discouraging conclusions. Though diversity trainings have been around in one form or another since at least the 1960s, few of them are ever subjected to rigorous evaluation, and those that are mostly appear to have little or no positive long-term effects. The lack of evidence is "disappointing," wrote Elizabeth Levy Paluck of Princeton and her co-authors in a 2021 Annual Review of Psychology article, "considering the frequency with which calls for diversity training emerge in the wake of widely publicized instances of discriminatory conduct." …

If diversity trainings have no impact whatsoever, that would mean that perhaps billions of dollars are being wasted annually in the United States on these efforts. But there's a darker possibility: Some diversity initiatives might actually worsen the D.E.I. climates of the organizations that pay for them.

So what can be done?

Robert Livingston, a lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School who works as both a bias researcher and a diversity consultant, has a simple proposal: "Focus on actions and behaviors rather than hearts and minds."

Dr. Livingston suggests that it's more important to accurately diagnose an organization's specific problems with D.E.I. and to come up with concrete strategies for solving them than it is to attempt to change the attitudes of individual employees. And D.E.I. challenges vary widely from organization to organization: Sometimes the problem has to do with the relationship between white and nonwhite employees, sometimes it has to do with the recruitment or retention of new employees and sometimes it has to do with disparate treatment of customers (think of Black patients prescribed less pain medication than white ones).


It's time to change the rules for organ donors. In Washington Monthly, Sally Satel makes a case for compensating organ donors. Satel starts off by advocating for states and/or the federal government to reimburse organ donors for their time off work and their medical costs, on the grounds that not only could this save lives but also save "hundreds of millions in Medicare costs."

But this isn't enough, Satel continues:

It is time to change the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act, which forbids donor compensation of any kind, because our long-standing reliance on altruism—and I say this as a shining exemplar of its virtues—is just not enough.

Polls, like this recent one, reveal the public favors rewarding people, especially those willing to save a stranger's life. Many loved ones are already highly motivated to begin with, but in some cases the promise of compensation might nudge them to donate.

One possible reward could be a refundable tax credit valuing $50,000 (others suggest a higher value, which is acceptable to us.) My colleague at AEI, Alan Viard, and I devised such a plan. This is a large number but with a logic behind it.

Under our plan, once prospective donors have been medically cleared, they would enter a waiting period of at least six months to ensure that they did not act impulsively and that they had offered fully informed consent. As an additional safeguard against ill-considered donations by financially desperate individuals, the first disbursement of the credit would be only $5,000. It would occur in the tax year following the year in which the organ donation occurred. Finally, the government would allow $5,000 in each of the next four years, with the remaining $25,000 allowed in the following year. For any out-of-pocket expenses related to the transplant, we also propose a 100 percent refundable credit to taxes for the year they donated.

That would be better than the current regime—but seems both unnecessarily complicated and unlikely to yield the most benefit for either would-be organ donors or those seeking donations. If we want to truly save lives and fairly compensate donors, we should allow private compensation to organ donors, as well.

See also:


• A new poll suggests President Joe Biden could beat former President Donald Trump in 2024—but not Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The Hill details some promising housing policy reforms around the country.

• Ohio will start honoring occupational licenses from other states.

Reason's Jacob Sullum on "the hazards of holding YouTube liable for promoting terrorism."

• Yikes: The New York Times published an op-ed penned by an American who had lived in China and praises the effect of Chinese censorship and authoritarianism on her children there. A sample: "Raising kids in China was a plus in other ways — such as the heavy censorship, which results in a kid-friendly internet, and national limits on how many hours young people can spend playing online video games. Ironically, the tight control of the Communist Party surveillance state results in its own kind of freedom."

• Another disturbing invocation of qualified immunity:

Reason's Scott Shackford dissects Britain's terrible Online Safety Bill.

• An Idaho lawmaker told colleagues that he's qualified to talk about reproductive rights because "I've milked a few cows, spent most of my time walking behind lines of cows, so if you want some ideas on repro and the women's health thing, I have some definite opinions." Rep. Jack Nelsen (R–Jerome) reportedly chuckled after the comment—made as he introduced himself to the  House Agriculture Committee—so presumably it was intended as a joke. Judging from this Idaho Statesman article, it did not go over well.