Its newfound investment dollars—which have given the company a $41 billion valuation—are financing a massive international lobbying operation, catching state and municipal leaders offguard, according to an extensive Washington Post probe of Uber’s lobbying efforts.
“San Francisco-based Uber has pioneered not just a new sort of taxi service but also a new way to change long-standing local ordinances. Uber’s approach is brash and, so far, highly effective: It launches in local markets regardless of existing laws or regulations,” the very detailed story said. “It aims to build a large customer base as quickly as possible. When challenged, Uber rallies its users to pressure government officials, while unleashing its well-connected lobbyists to influence lawmakers. Over the last two years, Uber has hired an armada of contract lobbyists, vacuuming up some of the most skilled and politically connected representatives in at least 50 U.S. cities and states.”
In an example in Virginia, when being pressured to shut down in that state, Uber sent notes to all of its customers in the state to overload the personal E-mail account of the then-low-profile regulator. They did and a reprieve was granted.
“Riders, for instance, have been sent alerts on their phones to sign petitions when a key decision point is imminent. More than 450,000 Uber riders have signed petitions, the company says, and when an alert goes out, people respond quickly — sometimes at a rate of seven electronic signatures per second. In Illinois, as Uber fought legislators’ efforts to impose new restrictions, the company sent its riders an interactive map, allowing them to e-mail an Uber testimonial to their state representative with a single click,” the Post story noted. “At the same time, the company has assembled a lobbying empire with traditional ties to both major parties, bringing onto its payroll with startling speed a sprawling team of former gubernatorial aides, former state legislators, high-level political operatives and other well-connected advocates.”