Uber starts the year with yet another high profile political hire
2015 was the year Uber shifted from a startup to a full-blown political machine.
Over the past 12 months or so, the once aggressively anti-government company has hired countless political insiders and lobbyists to help grease the wheels of its global expansion. Those hires include the former head of the CIA, countless former state department staffers. At one point Uber spent more on lobbying in Nevada than the entire gaming industry combined.
So what’s Uber’s plan for 2016? Judging by the latest news out of Sacramento: More of the same.
CALmatters reports that Uber has hired Aaron McLear, “a Sacramento insider and former press secretary to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger” who will head the company’s west coast public affairs team. His first task: to kill a Democrat-led bill that would give Uber drivers collective bargaining rights .
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said she noticed that McLear “just started following me on Twitter and liking me on Facebook.”
Gonzalez has announced plans to introduce a bill that would have huge implications for Uber and other companies that use independent contractors, rather than employees, to provide services. Uber is already facing a lawsuit that claims its drivers should be classified as employees. Gonzalez’s proposal takes a different approach by allowing independent contractors to form unions and collectively bargain. The Seattle City Council in December passed a similar ordinance, becoming the first city in the country to give bargaining rights to freelance drivers.
As Pando readers will know, McLear’s new gig is part of a broader shake-up of Uber’s PR machine. The company recently hired British political fixer Rachel Whetstone to implement a more aggressive, and aggressively political, public relations and communications strategy. One of Whetstone’s first hires was Jill Hazelbaker, a former GOP strategist who previously worked on John McCain’s presidential campaign. Hazelbaker joins Uber as VP, Communications and Public Policy which apparently means McLear will report to her. That means on the West coast all of Uber’s public messaging will be dictated by political strategists.
And on the East coast too.
As Capital New York reported in August, Uber’s way of fighting New York mayor Bill de Blasio’s attempts at regulation was to fill its East Coast comms department with a bunch of former Mayor Bloomberg staffers.
As Uber began revving up its ultimately victorious summertime assault on Mayor Bill de Blasio, a new guy joined its ranks. His name was Jason Post. He used to work as first deputy press secretary for Michael Bloomberg, but his new position as Uber's East Coast communications director was scarcely worth noting.
The Bloomberg veterans included the former mayor's campaign manager Bradley Tusk, who owns equity in Uber, employs a stable of former Bloomberg employees himself, and helped manage the recent campaign against de Blasio’s proposed Uber regulations; and Stu Loeser, Bloomberg’s long-serving press secretary, who now speaks for both Uber and Bloomberg.
In fact, Capital New York missed at least one more Bloomberg/Uber connection: Ian Osborne, a former colleague of Whetstone’s who now works as a freelance political strategist for clients like Uber and Michael Bloomberg. It was Obsorne who arranged the secret off-record dinner at which Emil Michael (a former state department staffer and assistant to the secretary of defence, lest we forget) laid out his plans to “go after” Pando’s Sarah Lacy and her family.
The most telling line in Capital’s story, though, is the notion that Jason Post’s hiring was “scarcely worth noting.” I’ve expressed frustration before that reporters covering Uber seem either unwilling or unable to explain to readers the significance of Uber’s political hires. Is it too much to hope that 2016 will be the year that changes?