Washington was in a tizzy on Tuesday, when the ride-sharing company Uber announced it had hired David Plouffe as their new senior vice president of policy and strategy. Plouffe is somewhat of a legend in political circles, for being the campaign manager who catapulted Barack Obama to the White House. While die-hard politicos may wonder why anyone would dream of leaving the District, political insiders have become a hot commodity among tech companies looking to gain traction on Capitol Hill and keep a pulse on policy.
In a blog post announcing the hire, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick made it clear that Plouffe’s hire was based entirely on a long-term political strategy surrounding Uber’s fight against regulations. “Over the years, what I’ve come to realize is that this controversy exists because we are in the middle of a political campaign and it turns out the candidate is Uber,” Kalanick wrote. “Our opponent – the Big Taxi cartel – has used decades of political contributions and influence to restrict competition, reduce choice for consumers, and put a stranglehold on economic opportunity for its drivers…Uber has been in a campaign but hasn’t been running one. That is changing now.”
Prior to hiring Plouffe, it had been rumored that former White House press secretary Jay Carney was being considered to run the company’s political strategy. Carney is said to still be in the running to take over the top PR job at Apple, a hire that has been whispered about for nearly six months now.
Having a personal relationship with policy makers will always yield far better results than simply throwing money at Congress from afar.
It’s not just large tech companies that are hiring up political insiders. Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, who invests in information technology startups, brought on former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2012 to work on policy strategy. Khosla has also contracted out former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to work on related issues. Similarly, venture firm Andreessen Horowitz touts former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty as one of its advisors, working primarily on regulatory issues for Uber’s competitor, Lyft.
Plouffe’s hire serves as a new example of how tech companies are taking the offense when it comes to getting a seat at the table in Washington. These giants are donating more money than ever to political causes, with Google giving over $1.9 million in the past year and Microsoft contributing $1.6 million. In addition these companies are building up extensive lobbying networks, both in-house and on K Street, and paying big bucks to do so – Facebook has spent nearly $5 million so far in 2014. The smaller Snapchat even hired their first lobbyist this year with the firm Heather Podesta + Partners to work issues relating to big data.
But having a personal relationship with policy makers will always yield far better results than simply throwing money at Congress from afar. With Plouffe on board to navigate the political backwaters surrounding regulation policy, Uber will have a far better chance of surviving, if not thriving in our new tech-dominated world.