In a string of news events and reports, the many faces of lobbying have resurfaced as the political year winds down.
And Silicon Valley, forging its way deeper into politics, has pushed lobbying to the fore with its efforts to advance special objectives at the state and federal levels.
According to figures tallied by the Sacramento Bee, California lobbying firms were off to a great start in the first half of the year, posting big numbers. Over that time, they pulled in $92.6 million, 7 percent better than last year’s January-to-June cycle; plus interest groups shelled out some $141.5 million on lobbying, exceeding last year’s outlay.
Responsible for the uptick were squabbles over legislation involving online poker, health warnings on soft drinks and — a big new entrant — ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.
Alone, Uber’s employment of lobbying became a major story in the second half of the year. To spearhead lobbying operations, Uber hired former Obama campaign strategist David Plouffe, a man with an insuperable Rolodex for a company seeking favorable outcomes from Democratic-controlled states.
According to the Washington Post, over the past two years Uber “hired private lobbyists in at least 50 U.S. cities and states, employing multiple firms in some places. … The records show that the company has hired at least 161 individuals to lobby on its behalf, on top of its own rapidly expanding policy office.”
That meant major outlays between summer and winter. In Sacramento, the Post noted, Uber paid “$475,000 from July to November to lobby California lawmakers.”
Silicon Valley struggles
Although Uber and its peer tech companies are sometimes portrayed as unstoppable goliaths, their headway in political circles has come at a cost, and not always with results as transformative as their disruption-friendly CEOs would wish. Uber itself has faced a fresh wave of bad publicity in recent months, with the company facing an outright ban on some Uber services in France and other European countries.
What’s more, even broadly shared political interests among Silicon Valley’s leading firms have encountered opposition, with lobbying unable to deliver results. Companies have pushed hard, as the Peninsula Press observed, to increase the number of so-called H-1B visas, which would trigger an influx of highly-skilled immigrants well trained in tech.
The Press quoted Emily Lam, the vice president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a public policy trade organization that counts many of tech’s biggest companies among its members:
“We’ve been lobbying for this for over 10 years, and it’s not happened, so there is a lot of frustration. The tide is turning where this isn’t going to be the place where people want to be because it’s so difficult to get a visa, and we want to have the best and brightest here.”
Through the revolving door
One group that has found success in lobbying is former California members of Congress from both parties who have taken up lobbying, a new McClatchy report has highlighted.
Some retired representatives even see their work as a continuation of their time in Congress. Former Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., was tapped to curry legislative favor for the Water Resources Development Act, which was sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. The act improved rivers and harbors and increased water conservation.
Flush with experience and close contacts with the representatives and senators closest to the issue, Doolittle got a bill through both houses of Congress within three years.
“In this hyperpartisan era, it was quite frankly a major accomplishment,” he told McClatchy. “It was a very satisfying continuation of my public service.”
This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com