Uber's move to hire former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe highlights the push by technology companies to bring in high-powered political insiders and lobbyists.
The ride-sharing company startup, which is battling government regulators and taxi industry interests in a number of cities and states around the U.S., said Tuesday that Plouffe would join the company as a senior vice president for policy and strategy.
Although other industries have long recruited high-level staff from the world of politics, only in recent years have tech companies started to seek influence in the corridors of power. And it is clear from Uber's announcement exactly what it expects to get from Plouffe's hiring. In touting the move, the company cited testimonials from such political notables as l Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
More established companies have already learned how to grease the wheels. For example, Google has spent nearly $1.9 million between 2013 and 2014 on political contributions, while Microsoft has contributed $1.6 million.
These disclosed amounts also tend to understate how much money businesses are funneling toward political interests. Companies also commonly fund state candidates, candidates for office overseas through international subsidiaries and lobbying firms. By clever use of reporting and tax laws, companies can often also spend money anonymously through proxy groups.
Well-funded startups and Silicon Valley players are also getting in on the act. In 2009, or three years before it went public, Facebook (FB) started hiring lobbyists in the U.S. and the European Union to combat concerns over consumer privacy. Netflix (NFLX) reportedly hired former Canadian telecom officials to fight usage-based Internet pricing in Canada.
Meanwhile, venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, a long-time Democratic supporter, has worked with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her consulting firm RiceHadleyGates. And venture firm Andreessen Horowitz retained former Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian Fenty as an advisor and has cultivated a relationship with former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.
More recently, Snapchat in January hired lobbying firm Heather Podesta + Partners after it experienced a massive breach of personal data. Protecting personal information has become a hot-button issue for many consumers and politicians. Regulators could potentially restrict what companies may do with such data, which is a source of value and revenue for companies.
Even more loose-knit groups are trying to up their game in Washington. The Bitcoin Foundation, a trade group, in July retained lobbying group Thorsen French Advocacy in July. The digital currency has come under scrutiny because of thefts and its use to evade regulatory controls.