Democratic US presidential candidate and the first Hindu member of the US Congress, Tulsi Gabbard has sued Google for at least USD 50 million for allegedly "discriminatory actions" against her 2020 election campaign and "stifling her free speech rights".
Gabbard, who converted to Hinduism early in life and is the first-ever Hindu to be running for the presidency in the US, is highly popular among Indian-Americans. The 38-year-old Iraq war veteran has been serving as the US Representative for Hawaii's 2nd congressional district since 2013.
Her lawsuit, filed on Thursday in a federal court in Los Angeles, states that Google allegedly infringed on her free speech when it briefly suspended her campaign's advertising account after the first Democratic debate in June.
Tulsi Now Inc, the campaign committee for Gabbard, said Google suspended the campaign's advertising account for six hours on June 27 and June 28, obstructing its ability to raise money and spread her message to potential voters.
"Google's arbitrary and capricious treatment of Gabbard's campaign should raise concerns for policy makers 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," the lawsuit said.
Google, however, has responded saying that it has automated systems that flag unusual activity on advertiser accounts - including large spending changes - to prevent fraud.
"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," said company spokesman Jose Castaneda.
Gabbard and her campaign are seeking an injunction against Google from further meddling in the election and damages of at least USD 50 million.
"This is a threat to free speech, fair elections, and to our democracy, and I intend to fight back on behalf of all Americans," said Gabbard, who is a co-Chair of the powerful House India Caucus.
The lawsuit also said that the Gabbard campaign believed its emails were being placed in spam folders on Gmail at "a disproportionately high rate" when compared with emails from other Democratic candidates.