Uber has started to spend more in the capitol on lobbying then ever before, yet with all its spending, the budget is modest if not threadbare when compared to other corporate giants.
Uber has reported its spend on lobbying in the capitol was $540,000 during the first quarter of 2018. This is higher only slightly than was spent in comparison to 2017 first quarter of $510,000. (a total of $2.2 million in 2017) These amounts are small when compared to the budgets spent by companies such as Alphabet that spent $18 million in 2017 and Facebook's $11.5 million.
However, they signify an increase based on the significance that the new Uber leadership places on this issue. Uber CEO Dara Khosrwoshahi employed Danielle Burr as Uber's new head of federal affairs in January. Burr used to work under House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Uber's new objectives are clear; they intend to clean up the past by making the future a brighter place and hoping to remove the stigma of Uber's sordid beginnings. The only way Khosrowshahi can do this is to apply leverage everywhere, not just bolster the brand image, or improve corporate culture. He has also to change how Uber is related to in the capitol, which filters down through political lines all around the country.
Uber is relatively new on the hill, but then it is a new company, and back in 2013 (all of five long years ago) they only spent around $400,000 for lobbying in D.C., then, former CEO Travis Kalanick either invested in steamrolling Uber into every state with total disregard for local politics and regulations, or he would invest in local politics. He also invested in software to "Greyball" anyone that would oppose Uber's advance.
Uber's shift to the capitol came with its shift to developing autonomous vehicle technology and needs to join its competitors in developing a friendlier federal environment. Lobbying is a fine art of balance; it knows how to lobby without seeming to be bribed, as well as remaining neutral while trying to support the current incumbent leadership. Kalanick made a big error when he initially agreed to join Trump's advisory council.
Uber’s past has been dotted with a few major incidents that require good relations with the hill, and one such incident that can destroy a company’s connections is lying to the public on a major issue. One such occurrence happened last year when Uber announced it had tried to silence a data breach that threatened millions of Uber app users worldwide. If there is one thing politicians don’t want to be close to is controversy, and they will shun companies that are controversial.
Khosrowshahi realizes that he needs the hill, he needs to create a continuum and needs to invest in lobbying the hill as well as state and local politicians. When you consider the billions that Uber has under its hands, the investment in lobbying is a cheap expense. I expect that Uber's budget for lobbying will grow fast during 2018.