As legislators in Albany considered expanding ride-hailing outside of New York City, Uber Technologies Inc. spent nearly $1.8 million on lobbyists and lobbying expenses for the first six months of the year, lobbying disclosures show.
According to lobbying disclosures filed by the San Francisco-based company with the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics, Uber spent roughly $377,000 on six outside lobbying firms. They included Albany-based Cordo & Co.; Metropolitan Public Strategies, founded by the former chief of staff to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman; Patrick Jenkins & Associates, whose founder is a close friend to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie; global law firm Dentons; Mercury Public Affairs; and Kasirer, a consulting firm. Uber also spent an additional $156,000 on in-house lobbyists between January and June of this year.
The bulk of the $1.79 million Uber spent went toward lobbying expenses, the disclosures reviewed by the New York Law Journal showed. The ride-hailing company spent $1.26 million on expenses including TV, digital and radio ads, as well as mailers and phone calls to New York residents. Uber, the disclosures show, spent more than $800,000 in the month of March when Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislative leaders began negotiating the state budget in earnest.
The state budget, due by the start of the new fiscal year on April 1, approved ride-hailing outside of New York City. Ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft began operating in New York in late June.In the latter half of 2016, Uber spent a combined $1.55 million on lobbyists and lobbying expenses. The bulk of the expenditures came in the winter, as Cuomo and the state Legislature considered a special legislative session to raise their salaries and enact ethics reforms.
The nearly $1.8 million Uber spent for the first six months of 2017 is a sharp increase from what the company spent during the same time period last year, when they were pushing for ride-hailing legislation as the end of the legislative session neared. Between January and June 2016, Uber spent a combined $754,000 on lobbyists and lobbying expenses, their disclosure forms show.
“An overwhelming majority of New Yorkers support rides sharing and elected officials, small business owners, clergy members and law enforcement officials had been clamoring for the service for years. As a fresh face in Albany, we were committed to ensuring that the voices of New Yorkers were heard over those of the long-established special interests,” said Josh Gold, Uber’s policy director.
The figures reported by Uber pale in comparison to the roughly $6 million the company spent defeating a proposal backed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio that would have temporarily capped Uber’s growth so the de Blasio administration could study the car-hail industry’s impact on traffic congestion.
While Uber was more publicly visible in its campaign to legalize ride-hailing, another San Francisco-based company also was lobbying lawmakers and municipalities:
Lyft spent nearly $243,000 on five outside lobbying firms in the first six months of the year, according to its semi-annual report. The lobbying firms included Albany Strategic Advisors; E3 Communications; Millennial Strategies; Yoswein New York Inc. and lobbyist David Yassky. Lyft spent another $3,600 on in-house lobbyists and an additional $43,000 on lobbying expenses, which included “grass roots communications” on Facebook and Google, the disclosures show.
While Uber and Lyft lobbied in favor of ride-hailing, the opposition also mounted.
The Trial Lawyers Association, which is largely credited for preventing car-hailing apps from operating in June 2016 when they lobbied for requiring higher insurance requirements for Uber and Lyft drivers, also lobbied lawmakers in Albany this year on the bill that sought to legalize ride-hailing. The Trial Lawyers Association, one of the largest campaign donors in the state, spent nearly $600,000 on three lobbying firms—including Patrick Jenkins & Associates, Beaudoin and Company and Riddett Associates—and their own in-house lobbyists. The Trial Lawyers were listed as lobbying on several issues including ride-hailing. Similar to last year, the Trial Lawyers advocacy on ride-hailing had been centered around insurance requirements. Ultimately, New York ended up with some of the highest insurance requirements for ride hailing in the nation.
The Upstate Transportation Association, which represents taxi drivers from Upstate New York and has harshly criticized Uber, paid lobbying firm Bolton-St. Johns nearly $24,000 in the last six months. Taxi Fleet Management