Uber has hired former White House strategist David Plouffe as it gears up to fight the country's well-established taxi industry in the political arena, the tech startup announced Tuesday.
Plouffe, best known as President Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign manager, starts his job as Uber's senior vice president of policy and strategy in late September, according to a blog post from Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. He said is gearing up the taxi industry by spreading a more positive message about its service. The company, which allows users to order a ride through a smartphone app, is often plagued by controversy prompted by upset taxi drivers, inflated pricing, and most recently, accusations of sabotaging its competitor Lyft.
"Our roots are technology, not politics, writing code and rolling out transportation systems," Kalanick wrote. "The result is that not enough people here in America and around the world know our story, our mission, and the positive impact we're having. Uber has been in a campaign but hasn't been running one. That is changing now."
The news coincides with an Uber campaign to stop a bill sponsored by California representative that would force ride-sharing companies like Uber to have the 24-hour commercial insurance coverage, the same kind required of taxis.
Kalanick said he started looking earlier this year for someone to head the company's political campaign efforts. Plouffe will manage all global policy and political activities, communications, and Uber branding efforts.
Plouffe drew parallels between Uber's "young, brilliant and dedicated employees who believe they are part of doing something historic and meaningful and won't take no for an answer," to his work on the campaign trial.
"Uber has the chance to be a once in a decade if not a once in a generation company," he said in a statement issued by Uber. "Of course, that poses a threat to some, and I've watched as the taxi industry cartel has tried to stand in the way of technology and big change. Ultimately, that approach is unwinnable."
Uber has attracted big names in tech previously, from companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, and it even snagged a former New York taxi commissioner to help with its public policy development. The company has seen some of its staunched opposition in New York.
It's had to do plenty of damage control around issues of safety. The company made headlines earlier this year when one of its drivers hit and killed a girl on New Year's Eve, prompting the company to extend its insurance coverage. After public criticism over the activation of surge pricing in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Uber worked with government officials to cap surge pricing during widespread disasters.
Its most recent controversy involved an accusation from Lyft, which said Uber was responsible for thousands of canceled rides, designed to clog up its competitor's network and reduce the amount of cars available for passengers. Uber quickly denied the accusation and piled its own onto Lyft.