We already know that several prominent politicians love the idea of Uber, its free-market values, its potential job creation, its spirit of innovation. Apparently some of them — or at least their staffs — are using it, too, which bodes well for the company still battling regulators across the country.
Spending data that congressional campaign committees must file with the FEC suggests that the service has rapidly overtaken more traditional forms of ground transportation — taxis, limos, rental cars — in rides taken and money spent. The Washington public affairs firm Hamilton Place Strategies analyzed this FEC data from the last three election cycles (the 2014 spending data runs through August). It provides a rough proxy of Uber use by policymakers in national power.
The FEC filings contain information on money spent on ground transportation by committees, for both incumbents and challengers, in the House and Senate. There's no way to tell in the data if Mitch McConnell or Mark Warner was actually in an Uber car themselves. But HPS's Tom Kise, who did the analysis, argues that it's telling nonetheless how their campaign committees spend cash and consume products themselves. And it's easy to picture an Uber-loving aide introducing the boss to the service.
In 2010, as Uber was just launching in San Francisco, the company didn't register a single ride among congressional campaign committee expenditures. By 2014?
In the latest data, Kise adds, Uber competitors Lyft and Sidecar are virtually nonexistent.
Because some ground transportation spending may cover larger purchases like tour buses, that chart covers only rides that cost less than $100. In the 2010 election cycle, total spending on such trips was about $57,000. In 2014, as of August, it was $112,000. That trend suggests that the number of such rides has been increasing (the average cost per ride has not). Maybe more interns cueing up Uber cars so they don't have to chauffeur officials around themselves?
As for the larger implications of this, it's worth noting that members of Congress aren't actually the ones deciding how to regulate Uber today. Most of those decisions are occurring at the local level, among taxi commissions, city councils or state legislatures. But politicians in Washington have certainly been weighing in on the company's fate.
"How this shakes out between now and the end of the policy debate is still open," Kise says. "But I’d rather have people use my service than not use my service before they’re about to regulate it."