Uber ramps up lobbying spending at the start of 2016

Uber ramps up lobbying spending at the start of 2016
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Uber’s federal lobbying spending more than doubled in the first three months of 2016, according to a disclosure form filed Wednesday night by the company.

The ride-hailing service's first-quarter spending amounted to $320,000, a roughly 129 percent increase from the $140,000 it spent in the last quarter of 2015. It also represented an approximately 191 percent uptick from the first quarter of last year.

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The skyrocketing expenditures for the most valuable company in the on-demand economy reveal its growing lobbying operation in Washington.

It has faced numerous regulatory challenges at the state and local level since launching in 2010. Although winning those battles — often for the right to compete with traditional taxis — remains key to the company’s survival, it has increasingly shown an interest in developing influence at the federal level as it has grown.

Last December, the company hired former Republican campaign staffer Niki Christoff away from Google to lead its federal policy operations. She has started to improve the company’s contacts on Capitol Hill, including working with the Sharing Economy Caucus led by Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

Coming guidance from the Federal Trade Commission for on-demand economy companies and continued pressure about the way it labels drivers as independent contractors rather than employees are among the challenges it could encounter in Washington in the next few months.

Many established tech companies saw their lobbying neither rise nor fall by more than 20 percent in the first quarter of the year despite spending more overall than even the most high-profile startups.

Apple’s spending grew just 10 percent between the fourth quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016 despite engaging in a high-profile battle with the FBI over whether to help investigators access an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorists.

Google spent $3.8 million in the first quarter of 2016, compared to $3.29 million in the final quarter of last year.

Facebook was one exception, however, raising its lobbying spending from $2.13 million at the end of 2015 to roughly $2.78 million for the first quarter of this year, an increase of nearly 31 percent.

The company lobbies on a wide range of issues. It has had discussions with policymakers about everything from trade to cyber security to the plan to transition away from a United States-controlled domain name system for the internet, according to its disclosure form.