Archive for June, 2015

Uber – Lobbying at a Place Near You

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

UBER, THE DISRUPTIVE RIDE SHARING/TAXI APP, has often been discussed due to its meteoric rise and massive $40 billion dollar evaluation. Still growing, Uber has faced many challenges along the way, not only from competitors like Lyft and traditional taxi companies, but also from municipal legislation at all levels. However, so far Uber has been able to overcome each of these obstacles in no small part due to its reliance on lobbying and over the past year it has “built one of the largest and most successful lobbying forces in the country,” according to an in depth profile into Uber’s strategy by Bloomberg.

This blog has previously discussed Uber’s strategy of using state and local level lobbying efforts to reach their corporate goals due to a regulatory environment that is constantly shifting in many municipalities. For example, Bloomberg reports last year “Colorado passed the first ride-sharing legislation in the country. Since then, about 50 U.S. jurisdictions have adopted ordinances recognizing Uber and Lyft as a new type of transit provider called ‘transportation network companies.'” Some states, like Virginia, have attempted to stop Uber from operating in their area but failed after significant backlash.  According to The Washington Post, “Uber’s approach is brash and, so far, highly effective: It launches in local markets regardless of existing laws or regulations. 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.”

Uber’s ability to implement such a strategy is in no small part due to the sheer size and spread of its lobbying operations. In the United States alone Uber employs 250 lobbyists and has 29 different lobbying firms registered to work on its behalf in capitols around the nation.  This may seem like a lot, but this doesn’t even include the number of municipal lobbyists employed by Uber. Using lobbyists who are familiar with the local players and policies has been another important tool in Uber’s lobbying strategy. Bloomberg reports that In Portland Uber “hired a new team of local lobbyists headed by Dan Bates, who used to work as Portland’s own lobbyist in the state capitol…In Kansas, it hired Governor Sam Brownback’s former campaign manager and another lobbyist who also works for Koch Industries. In Connecticut, it contracted with a former House speaker’s firm, and in Illinois it brought on the former governor’s chief of staff.”

It is impossible to calculate the total amount spent by Uber on lobbying as states, cities and local municipalities all have different reporting requirements however, from the reports that are disclosed we know that it is a costly battle at every level with Uber spending $208,000 in Maryland and $684,000 in California and more than $600,000 in Seattle and $314,000 lobbying in Washington, D.C.

Labor Playing Hard Ball on TPP

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 by Vbhotla

THE TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP has faced a rocky road through Congress, in no small part due to the efforts of organized labor. As the Washington Post notes, passage of the bill would be a major legislative achievement for President Obama, akin to the North American Free Trade Agreement under the Clinton Administration. However, the Obama Administration has faced significant pushback from the AFL-CIO and from pro-labor Democrats, who argue that the TPP would weaken both fair labor conditions and wage equality.

From the outset, the AFL-CIO pledged to oppose the TPP; back in March, the Post reported that AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka vowed to fight the bill, saying “There is such a dramatic impact on the standard of living and a lowering of wages and a loss of jobs.” Labor’s staunch opposition seems to have been effective, with key Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren coming out against the bill in its current form.

But the AFL-CIO’s aggressive advocacy tactics has soured many Congressional Democrats, traditionally allies of organized labor. POLITICO reported this week that the union employed a “scorched-earth” approach, threatening Democrats vulnerable to primary challenges and promising to withhold fundraising should Democrats vote “yes” on the TPP. This approach has some Democrats seething, even those who were already opposed to legislation, such as Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Minority Whip, and Nancy Pelosi. Hoyer said of the AFL-CIO’s strategy, “I don’t think it’s helpful…[we] urged our friends in labor to have respect.”

Although the AFL-CIO’s tactics have been effective, it remains to be seen whether it can quash the legislation. This week, the House revived the bill by narrowly passing it, moving the debate to the Senate, where Obama and other supports hope that key Democrats can be mustered to pass the TPP. Regardless of the TPP’s outcome, as a key 2016 election year approaches, it’s likely in the interest of both Democrats and organized labor to mend fences, and soon.

Soccer Corruption Dribbling Down K-Street

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015 by Matthew Barnes

THE ARREST OF SEVERAL prominent FIFA officials and its controversial President Sepp Blatter’s decision to resign from his office just days after securing re-election have sent shockwaves around the world in recent weeks. The arrests have started to shine a bright light on the systemic and rampant corruption in soccer’s governing body and highlighting the organization’s lack of transparency. As part of the investigation into abuses by FIFA Swiss prosecutors are set to investigate FIFA’s decision to award the hosting rights for both the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

In 2011 following an outcry due to FIFA’s decision to award to World Cup tournament to Qatar FIFA commissioned a report investigating Qatar’s bidding process for the tournament. The full report, which has never been published, cleared Qatar of any wrong doing. Yet, allegations of corruption and bribery still continue to surface. In response to the controversy the Wall Street Journal reports Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (the World Cup organizing committee) saying, “We conducted our bid with integrity and to the highest ethical standards,”  adding that it aims to leave behind “a positive legacy.”

From 2009, when the bidding process for the rights to host the World Cup began, to present Qatar has spent more than $8.8 million on U.S. based consultants. The Hill reports, “Although the money spent on public relations and advocacy services since 2009 includes a slew of issues surrounding U.S.-Qatari engagement, the World Cup 2022 Bid Committee paid Brown Lloyd James, now BLJ Worldwide, an estimated $982,339 from 2009 to 2011, according to filings with the Department of Justice.”

However, the bribery allegations may just be the tip of the iceberg in the scandal surrounding Qatar’s World Cup bid. Adding to the headache of U.S. based consultants Qatar also faces allegations of the mistreatment of migrant workers, many of whom are working to build the stadiums and facilities for the World Cup. A report in the British newspaper The Guardian from 2014 reports, “Nepalese migrants building the infrastructure to host the 2022 World Cup have died at a rate of one every two days in 2014 – despite Qatar’s promises to improve their working conditions.” However, some who oppose Qatar’s World Cup bid such as Sunjeev Bery, the Advocacy Director for Middle East North Africa at Amnesty International USA argue, “No amount of PR or lobbying can obscure the underlying realities of labor abuse and exploitation in Qatar.”

Since January four new firms (Mercury, LEVICK, and Portland Communications which sub-contracted with Gallagher Group) have signed on to work on behalf of Qatar with contracts totaling more than $1.9 million through June alone. Those firms as well as Squire Patton Boggs and BGR Group, both of which have for a longtime listed Qatar as a client, certainly have their work cut out for them in the wake of the developing FIFA scandal.




Privacy Advocates Spy A Ray of Hope

Thursday, June 4th, 2015 by Vbhotla

FOR ARGUABLY THE first time since Edward Snowden released government documents to the media detailing the NSA’s secret bulk collection surveillance programs, privacy advocates are bullish about the prospects of changing the way the government collects data for anti-terrorism and law enforcement purposes. This week, the Hill reported that the Senate Passed the USA Freedom Act, which is designed to rein in what was seen as indiscriminate bulk collection of U.S. phone records and internet browsing data.

Indeed, things are looking brighter for privacy advocates when Republicans—who generally condemned the Snowden disclosures as illegal, if not outright treasonous—are infighting over the issue. POLITICO reported this week that Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blasted Jeb Bush over his defense of the NSA’s data collection practices.  In fact, Paul was instrumental in delaying the renewal of the Patriot Act and, in doing so, caused the NSA’s bulk collection to lapse, as the Daily Beast notes.

Still, privacy advocates say that it isn’t enough. For one, the NSA still has the power to collect American e-mails and other communications without a warrant if they are associated with foreigners being surveilled under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Prism, Upstream, and others. Business Insider reported that advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation  and Mozilla (creators of the Firefox web browser) aggressively lobbied for the passage of the USA Freedom Act, but Chris Riley of Mozilla stressed that the bill “[isn’t] comprehensive” and that there is still significant work to be done to ensure free and open communication among U.S. citizens.

While passage of the USA Freedom Act is a significant step forward for a movement that badly needed one, it remains to be seen if the measures in the act will be enough to curb what privacy advocates see as illegal and out of control government surveillance. With loopholes like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the future is far from certain.