Privacy practices concern Franken
Politicians’ shades-of-gray relationships with Uber contrast with red-and-blue Washington, D.C.’s frequent black-or-white stances on all sorts of issues: immigration, taxation, oil pipelines, same-sex marriage.
Take Franken, among the U.S. Senate’s most outspoken critics of Uber.
An aide readily acknowledged the company’s utility, both for his governmental and campaign offices.
“He still believes the company has not adequately answered his questions about some of its privacy practices and continues to have concerns about how its employees access, retain, and share customer data,” Franken spokesman Ed Shelleby said, while also noting that “no prohibition for services like Uber, formal or informal, exists in either office, and Sen. Franken himself has taken Uber."
And even the most ardent Uber supporters, such as Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who mentions the company when lauding the “democratizing force of technology” and is sometimes personally courted by the company when traveling, today sound notes of caution when discussing it. No U.S. Senate campaign spent more money on Uber last cycle than that of Booker, which ran a $4,689 tab.
Booker “believes ride hailing services can provide good quality, competitively-priced, reliable transportation to customers but shouldn't be exempt from regulations that ensure consumer safety and privacy,” said spokeswoman Silvia Alvarez, adding that the senator and his staff use a variety of transportation options, “from taxis and Uber to New Jersey Transit, Amtrak and the subway.”
Some of Uber’s top users simply don’t want to discuss the company at all anymore.
The campaign committee of Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., spent more on Uber services last election cycle — nearly $17,000 — than any other federal political committee. The committee reported 835 Uber transactions during 2013 and 2014, or more than one per day.
Moore personally takes Uber rides because she doesn’t have a car in Washington, D.C., and underwent two knee surgeries in 2013, her office told The Wall Street Journal last year, prior to some of the company’s PR flaps.
Moore’s office declined to comment on whether Moore is concerned about Uber’s privacy standards or business practices.
“This week, our focus has and will continue to be the federal budget and the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank,” spokesman Eric Harris told the Center for Public Integrity.
Emily’s List, a political committee that advocates for Democratic women who support abortion rights, ranked No. 2 in spending — $12,675 — on Uber services during the 2013-2014 election cycle. Representatives there did not return requests for comment.
Other political committees that spent at least $7,000 last election cycle on Uber rides are the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, liberal super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, the Republican National Committee, the Democratic National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Politicians are certainly free to travel as they please, said Kansas state Rep. Scott Schwab, a Republican and chairman of the Kansas House Insurance Committee.
But Schwab, who backed a bill that aimed to impose tough safety and insurance regulations in Kansas on Uber and similar companies, says the company isn’t concerned about what’s best for the state’s residents.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a fellow Republican, vetoed the bill last month in the name of “an open and free marketplace.”
Shortly afterward, Uber hired Brownback’s former campaign manager as a lobbyist and announced expanded service in Kansas.
Then Tuesday, the Kansas Legislature overrode Brownback's veto.
Uber's reaction? It announced minutes later it would end its services in Kansas.