Get FUBAR Wit It: Über and Lyft Deny Massive Violations of Campaign and Consumer Protection Laws


It was only a matter of time.  Über and Lyft started their conversation with the people of Austin with a threat–do what we want or we’ll leave.  Personally, my reaction to that kind of brinksmanship is almost always one response:  Can I get that in writing?

This is not negotiation.  This is almost always a sign of someone with small hands syndrome.   (Have you met Travis Kalanick?)

It’s not that we haven’t heard this kind of gun to the head style before.  Every real estate developer, every big box store, every megacorporation and every Chamber of Commerce booster trying to get a tax break says more or less the same thing.  What’s different this time is that you have shameless Silicon Valley-style greed on the one hand and the people on the other.  Unlike most of the real estate development that is ruining Austin and driving away the musicians and entrepreneurs that have made Austin the “Live Music Capitol of the World”, the people get to actually vote on this one.

That has to be what Über is worried about or why would they be running such a dirty campaign.  Remember–Über’s campaign is run by David Plouffe, the former campaign manager for President Obama.

At the rate he’s going, Plouffe will be lucky if he gets through this without getting indicted.  And if he does, it will be all his own doing.

Über/Lyft PAC’s Election Fraud

Here’s a few high points of how badly these guys have screwed up.  And remember–these are the smartest guys in the room.  Just ask them.

  1.  Failure to Disclose Political Expenditures:  The Über/Lyft PAC has engaged in a lot of campaign activity that has not found its way to campaign finance disclosures.  Some of this is very tangible.Some of it, like the appearance of Friday Night Lights star Taylor Kitsch on the UT campus to get his picture taken with students, has yet to show up on campaign disclosures.  It may be that Kitsch wasn’t paid, but if former Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell picked up a fast $50,000 for his endorsement, you would think that Kitsch got a chunk of cash.  Yes, a chunk for a hunk.It should be easy to determine if Kitsch got paid through a document subpoena for Kitsch’s bank records when Über/Lyft PAC gets sued or prosecuted.  Hook ’em, kids.  Remember–Bevo ain’t a unicorn.


  2. Coordination Between Corporate Communications and Über/Lyft PAC:  Both Über and Lyft, but especially Über, are sending out massive amounts of physical and digital campaign materials without the requisite political campaign disclosure language.  Like most PAC activity, there is an appearance of coordination between the corporations and the PAC.This issue normally comes up with candidates and super PACs.  It’s pretty unusual for it to happen between a corporation and a PAC.  Candidates either get elected or they don’t.  Corporations have to do business in the community–we’ll come back to Über and Lyft’s driverless car plans.  This is especially bizarre when these in-kind contributions aren’t reflected on Über/Lyft PAC’s campaign finance reports.  That’s just stupid.
  3. Robotext/Robocall Campaigns Without User Consent:  Judging by how many times I’ve heard about it, Über/Lyft PAC have been mounting a massive, truly massive robotext campaign using corporate records of customers that were not given to them for that purpose at all.  It was so bad, Über have been hit with a class action lawsuit in federal court asserting violations of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, not to mention spamming laws.  And then there’s the FTC.
  4. Vote Buying:  There’s an intricate program of “free” rides to the polls, and some kind of discounts that I don’t follow very well.  Looks funky, but pretty clearly looks like they were intended as a benefit to influence a vote.  Which I think pretty much covers it.

It’s Not About the Jobs

The other thing to remember about Über and Lyft threatening to leave Austin is that they are both working diligently to replace drivers with robots.  So much for all those jobs.  I realize that sounds far fetched but based on public statements of Über and Lyft, it really isn’t.

That’s right—according to Reuters, Google, Ford, Volvo, Über, Lyft formed an alliance to lobby for federalization of driverless car regulations.  The alliance hired another Obama Administration revolving door lobbyist, one David L. Strickland, to lead the federalization of their driverless car effort.  (Volvo is owned by owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co.)

Strickland joins the coalition from the high roller Washington, DC lobby shop Venable where he’s worked since 2014 after leaving the post of –where else–Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the Obama Administration.

Well…dude…it’s not my imagination.  Über CEO Travis Kalanick lets us in on the Über strategy, as reported by the Verge:

Über will eventually replace the people who drive its cars with cars that drive themselves, CEO Travis Kalanick said today at the Code Conference. A day after Google unveiled the prototype for its own driverless vehicle, Kalanick was visibly excited at the prospect of developing a fleet of driverless vehicles, which he said would make car ownership rare. [And which Uber would presumably buy from Google or a vendor like Ford or Volvo using Google’s technology.]

“The reason Über could be expensive is because you’re not just paying for the car — you’re paying for the other dude in the car [meaning the driver],” Kalanick said. “When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Über anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle. So the magic there is, you basically bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away.”

Because it’s money that he loves.

And according to today’s Wall Street Journal page 1, General Motors and Lyft plan on having driverless taxis on the road pronto:

General Motors Co. and Lyft Inc. within a year will begin testing a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric taxis on public roads, a move central to the companies’ joint efforts to challenge Silicon Valley giants in the battle to reshape the auto industry.

So…Über and Lyft are threatening to leave Austin?

Can I get that in writing?  Would today be too soon?