SAN FRANCISCO -- Uber on Tuesday tapped David Plouffe, former campaign manager and White House adviser to President Barack Obama, to wage a multifront fight against regulators and the taxi industry, becoming the latest Silicon Valley company to hire a Washington insider to woo policymakers and bolster its political firepower.

Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick said Plouffe would make "sure that our story is told, and that the right outcome happens" to prevail against regulators and insurance and taxi companies that have staged fierce opposition to smartphone apps like the one his company offers that let users hire a car for a ride.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe speaks  to the media in the spin room after the vice presidential debate on October 2, 2008 in St. Louis, Missouri.
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe speaks to the media in the spin room after the vice presidential debate on October 2, 2008 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

"There are a number of places that we aren't in because of the regulations that exist today," Kalanick said. "And we have tens of thousands of consumers, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of consumers, who are clamoring for a way to get around that city. "

Uber is part of a trend: Increasingly, startups and tech giants have found themselves in a maelstrom of lobbyists and politics, according to tech experts, as they tangle with business regulations.

"There is a practical acknowledgment in Silicon Valley that, much to our chagrin, Washington plays a larger and larger role in our lives," said Bob Ackerman, founder and director of Palo Alto venture firm Allegis Capital. "And like it or not, you have to engage."


Advertisement

Apple's Tim Cook last year tapped former Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson to lead the company's environmental initiatives. Google in 2012 hired Susan Molinari, a former Republican member of Congress from New York, to be its head lobbyist. And recently San Francisco cloud software company Dropbox appointed former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to its board of directors to aid the company's global expansion.

Plouffe, 47, will join Uber in San Francisco at the end of September as senior vice president of policy and strategy, and will run Uber's campaign in its self-described political race against taxis and regulators. The company did not disclose his salary.

Plouffe on Tuesday said his role at Uber "will be very familiar" after his work running Obama's 2008 campaign. "But with any new challenge, there are distinctions and a learning curve," he added.

Ackerman said Plouffe's hire is "an astute move on the part of Uber. They are up against an entrenched, well-organized adversary in the taxi industry that has developed and maintained tremendous political sway."

After the Public Utilities Commission last year rolled out new regulations to legalize on-demand car service apps, Uber and its supporters had hoped most of the country would follow California's lead. Instead, the company has continued to face resistance in new markets, and some experts say only a seasoned political strategist -- not software engineers -- can sway regulators from Dallas to Philadelphia, Spain and Germany.

Uber, founded in 2009, is one is of the few young companies to put a top Washington official on its payroll -- and it can afford to do so thanks to stratospheric venture capital funding, including the largest-ever VC investment of $1.2 billion this year, which pushed the company's valuation to at least $18.2 billion. Like Google and other tech giants, Uber has also hired powerful lobbyists in Washington to drive its expansion, and in May tapped Ashwini Chhabra, a former top official at the Taxi and Limousine Commission in New York, as its first leader of policy development and community engagement. The car service is now in 170 cities and 43 countries.

"It's hard to deny progress," Plouffe said. "It's hard to stand in the way of change."

Plouffe said he will commute to San Francisco initially but has plans to move to the West Coast with his wife, Olivia Morgan, and their two children in summer 2015. He will also end his roles as contributor to Bloomberg TV and ABC News.

Contact Heather Somerville at 510-208-6413. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.