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Uber, Lyft reveal how deep their pockets go

Friday, April 8, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Uber and Lyft have disrupted all previously held notions of what is normal for campaign finance in Austin after making jaw-dropping contributions to a political action committee fighting for friendlier regulations of the corporations’ ride-hailing services.

Thirty days ahead of the May 7 election on Proposition 1, Ridesharing Works for Austin filed a finance report that reported a total haul of $2,167,540.24 since January. The entirety of that sum, down to the last cent, came from the two San Francisco-based corporations.

The six-figure report – which stands at nearly 29 times the median household income for a family of four in Travis County – looms large over the PAC’s primary opponent, the Our City, Our Safety, Our Choice PAC. According to that group’s filing, it managed to raise just over $12,000 since January. However, all but one of its 51 individual donors listed an Austin-area address.

Both Ridesharing Works and Our City are fighting for voters’ support in the special May election. City Council called for the election in February after a petition drive supported by Ridesharing Works gathered enough signatures to place a new set of rules for ride-hailing services on the ballot. That effort came in response to stricter regulations – approved by Council in December – that included fingerprint-based background checks for drivers.

Another group opposed to Prop 1 also filed finance reports on Thursday. Austin Unites said it took in $1,620.80. All but $100 of that was in-kind contributions for stickers and a website.

Those in-kind contributions were higher in proportion but otherwise paled in comparison to those reported by Ridesharing Works. Nearly two-thirds of its gigantic injection of resources was provided as services paid for by Uber and Lyft. The $1,378,790.24 value includes items such as several one-time payments of consultant fees worth $75,000 each.

Uber and Lyft split the cash donations to the PAC roughly evenly. Of the total $788,750 they gave to Ridesharing Works, Lyft chipped in $401,000 while Uber peeled off $387,750.

To put the twin transportation network companies’ campaign finance bonanza in perspective, the most recent deep-pocketed PAC to support a city ballot proposition, Let’s Go Austin, reported pulling in $485,876 just 30 days before the 2014 urban rail bond election. In that case, the huge war chest proved a waste, since that bond lost by a significant margin.

All three groups will file a second round of campaign finance reports on April 29.

Photo by Pictures of Money made available through a Creative Commons license.

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