THE CANDIDATE

08.19.14

Uber Hires Ex-Obama Campaign Manager to Help Fight 'Big Taxi Cartel'

David Plouffe has a new gig, and this time, it’s not with a presidential candidate.

Travis Kalanick, CEO of the popular ride-sharing app Uber, announced Tuesday that the company had brought on David Plouffe, the manager of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and his former adviser, to oversee its political operations. 

Uber had been auditioning campaign managers for months. In June, a source close to the hiring process told me, “they want somebody who has been steeped in that political warfare.” And they found him. 

On Uber’s blog, Kalanick refers to Uber as “the candidate,” (language he has used before) and outlines his mission as creating “transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere, for everyone. In pursuit of that mission over the past four years, Uber has transformed the fabric of 170 cities around the world—creating the safest way to get around cities, generating over 20,000 jobs a month, lowering DUI incidents, accidents and fatalities and improving local economies.” 

When Kalanick has used this "campaign" analogy, he has referred to Big Taxi in less flattering terms. Back in May, he characterized the opponent as "an asshole named Taxi."

Kalanick notes that although many cities have embraced Uber, the company is “a surprisingly controversial topic. Over the years, what I’ve come to realize is that this controversy exists because we are in the middle of a political campaign and it turns out the candidate is Uber.”

Uber’s opponent, Kalanick writes, is “the Big Taxi cartel” who, he charges, is unfairly influencing regulators with money. Previously, when Kalanick has used this “campaign” analogy, he has referred to Big Taxi in less flattering terms. Back in May, he characterized the opponent as “an asshole named Taxi.” 

As I outlined here in June, “Uber” has become, in many ways, a politically charged term, because the company has found itself at war with regulators. Because of this, Uber has become the darling of the right-wing. Earlier this month, the Republican National Committee circulated a petition to “show your support for Uber,” as they fight the red tape put in place by “liberal government bureaucrats.” Grover Norquist, the right-wing anti-tax activist, has gone as far as to say that Uber is its own political party, tweeting in June: “Today, there are two political parties/movements in America. One is UBER, the other is with the taxi commission. Choose.” And in March, Republican Senator Marco Rubio visited Uber’s Washington, D.C. headquarters to pay his respects. 

All of that makes Plouffe, with his background as a Democratic consultant, a very interesting choice. On the blog, Kalanick detailed that Plouffe “will be managing all global policy and political activities, communications, and Uber branding efforts. I will look to him as a strategic partner on all matters as Uber grows around the world…He is a proven field general and strategist who built the startup that elected the president.” 

Plouffe, it should be noted, is just one part of a multi-pronged political operation. Uber has lobbyists and consultants all over the country, from the Northeast corridor to Houston, Denver, and Colorado.