These days, Austinites can’t turn on a TV or open their mailbox without finding another reminder that there is an election happening in their city.
Two days are left in early vote (which ends tomorrow) before the election on May 7th, and the PAC supporting proposition 1 is not sparing any expense.
When financial reports revealed, earlier in the campaign, that Uber and Lyft had contributed over $2.1 million to the Ridesharing Works PAC in support of proposition 1, it was already one of the most expensive local campaigns in recent memory.
With the release of the most recent report, we now know that this number is over $8 million.
If that sounds like an exponential increase over local elections in the past, you’re not wrong.
Ridesharing Works has already outspent two of the most recent contentious ballot initiatives, the attempt to build a new county courthouse and the rail and roads proposal from 2014. These two races ranged from the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to turn out voters in favor of the courthouse to around $1.5 million invested on both sides of the rail election.
The seven-way primary to replace State Representative Elliott Naishtat in Austin’s central House District 49 saw just over $500,000 spent in total by all candidates combined.
And it isn’t just big money for Austin. Even the highly-publicized non-discrimination vote on Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (“HERO”) can’t compete with Uber and Lyft’s campaign funds. All of the organizations working to keep the non-discrimination ordinance raised just under $2 million.
Uber and Lyft have spent almost four times the amount that went into Senate District 26’s contentious battle between legislative giants Jose Menendez and Trey Martinez Fischer, and almost twice what Speaker Joe Straus spent to keep his seat in his most recent primary. You can check out the Texas Tribune‘s breakdown of election spending to see how $8 million stacks up against other primary battles throughout the state.
And the money is working. Uber and Lyft are saturating the Austin market with reminders to vote – from TV ads to mailers to in-app pop ups and email reminders for their users, they are blanketing the city with reminders to vote – and to vote for Prop 1. Once the dust settles on this election, it will be interesting to see what Uber and Lyft spent per vote – a number that is sure to be staggering.
The avalanche of coverage is so deafening, it is easy to forget that this isn’t the most pressing issue facing Austin communities. Not by a long shot.
According to a 2012 report, one fourth of children in Travis County are food insecure. The most recent statistics available tell us that there are over 2,000 individuals without shelter on any given night in our city. And the number of elderly individuals facing homelessness in their later years continues to grow. As our population grows exponentially, we are struggling to provide access to housing, period – not to mention affordable housing that would allow families to stay in their communities despite exponential increases in property values from year to year.
The amount of money spent in any given election year in Texas is always staggering. Millions of dollars funnel into races at every level, all while Texas faces the specter of larger budget cuts under Republican leadership. It’s hard not to think about how much good that money could do.
As we enter the last two days of early vote ahead of Election Day on May 7th, I also wonder – these days, it’s almost impossible not to think about the ridesharing election at least once throughout the day in Austin. What a difference it would make if the issues of basic access to food, shelter, healthcare and education in our community were equally as unavoidable.