This week Airbnb won a major victory in San Francisco when the city’s voters decided against further regulations on short-term rentals. Filling the city with billboards, bus ads and tv spots, the company spent about $8 million to defeat the measure, known as Proposition F.
Here in Los Angeles Airbnb has also spent money to influence local government. As local lawmakers are thinking about regulating the industry, Airbnb has spent about $226,000 since 2012 on lobbying, according to official documents from the L.A. City Ethics Commission.
"Airbnb is spending... a not insignificant amount of money lobbying the city of L.A.," said Jessica Levinson, the president of the L.A. City Ethics Commission. She said the money pays for access to local lawmakers, which lobbyists jockey for.
"A lot of it is paying for people’s time, it’s paying for people’s connections, it’s paying for people’s expertise in knowing who to talk to, how to talk to them and when to approach them," said Levinson.
The company's money has mostly gone to Arnie Berghoff & Associates, a local lobbying firm. Bergoff told KPCC Airbnb wanted to lobby in L.A. early, anticipating that the politics of short-term rentals could become a contentious issue.
"When they first retained me in 2012 there was nothing pending in the city of L.A. No motions... but they knew there would be. So, we went around we introduced Airbnb and what they are, more importantly what they're not, to all of the council members so that when regulation was coming at least they'd have a better understanding of it," said Berghoff.
When asked to comment on their lobbying efforts in L.A., Airbnb released a statement to KPCC that read in part: "We continue to work with our community of hosts and Los Angeles policymakers to develop simple, clear home sharing regulations that allow middle class families to share their homes and contribute to the community."
The company makes about $35.5 million a year in L.A. according to their own estimates from 2014. But Levinson said the amount of money the company spends doesn't necessarily translate to influence.
"A group's level of influence over elected officials depends on a number of factors. Not just the amount of money they spend on a lobbyist, but also the knowledge and expertise of the lobbyist and the connections that lobbyist has, and popularity and propriety of the issue being lobbied," she said.
While it's typical for city officials to be lobbied by companies, Levinson said, tech companies like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb are emerging in a new way.
"I think Airbnb is absolutely flexing its political muscle. They're spending a lot of money. I don't think it's an unheard-of amount of money, but I think it makes them one of the bigger players," she said.
*This story has been updated