Uber to counter California’s labor muscle with $30M political spend

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The PAC money comes as the company works to flex its muscle in statehouses across the U.S.

CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO | Politico

Uber, the ride-hailing and delivery giant that launched in San Francisco, is prepping a massive cash infusion to shake up politics in California, according to plans revealed first to POLITICO.

The company is dropping $30 million into its existing state committee — called the Uber Innovation PAC — all of which it plans to spend on candidates and causes in 2024, people familiar with its plans said. That will make it one of, if not the largest, single-funded state PACs this election cycle, injecting a decidedly pro-business bent into the mix.

In addition to its sheer size, Uber’s incoming money bomb is notable given moves by other major corporations to pull out of California, citing complaints over its voluminous regulations and a broader climate that can be unfriendly to large businesses.

Uber’s rollout includes a $250,000 check to support Proposition 1 on the March ballot, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s effort to revamp and fund the state’s mental health system. Prop 1 is Newsom’s biggest priority in the primary and so far faces minimal opposition and spending against it.

The PAC’s new money is the latest sign that booming tech companies with ties to Silicon Valley are growing significantly in their political clout and sophistication — following years of being naive and even adverse to the ways of Sacramento.

That dynamic is expected to increase, lobbyists and industry representatives tell POLITICO, with the rise of artificial intelligence and lawmakers’ plans to introduce bills to regulate AI and other fledgling industries. The PAC money also comes as the company works to flex its muscle in statehouses across the U.S., plunging millions into gig-economy ballot measures to reshape the ride-sharing industry by enshrining drivers as independent contractors.

A court last year mostly upheld California’s Proposition 22, which passed with room to spare in November 2020. Unions spent big against the measure and have fought it in the courts. There’s a lot at stake for the company in California beyond its battles with unions over employee classifications. Uber has a growing share of electric vehicles and has set aggressive zero-emission targets in the U.S., Canada and European cities. And it’s coping with spiraling insurance industry woes.

Uber itself started lobbying in California’s Capitol about a decade ago and has a record of donating to candidates and campaigns. Uber’s PAC, for example, supported Newsom as he beat back a recall attempt in 2021.

The Prop 22 fight grew out of the company’s unsuccessful battle against Assembly Bill 5 — carried by Lorena Gonzalez, a former state lawmaker now leading the Labor Federation, and signed by Newsom in 2019 — that would have upended Uber’s business model by compelling the company to reclassify its drivers as employees. Uber did not reveal any more early recipients of its new cash, beyond saying it would contribute to California statehouse campaigns and issues.

In a statement from the PAC’s organizer, the company said it plans to “amplify thoughtful candidates and campaigns that are willing to take on the tough challenges that our state’s collective future faces.” The effort is being led by Ramona Prieto, Uber’s head of public policy and communications for the western region.

In the statement, Prieto added, “that includes electrification, supporting small business, repairing the state’s broken insurance markets rife with litigation abuse, ensuring a competitive business climate and protecting access to flexible work amidst record inflation and economic uncertainty.”

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