February 28 2017
The saying goes, ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, you join ‘em.’ For many big businesses and established companies though, when they can’t beat the new competition they lobby their elected representatives to get the rules to the game changed in their favor and against their competition.
Some people call that cheating. For most regular Americans, this rigged system is what they hate about politics and rightly so.
Technology has given us a new example of how the old cronyism game is still being played.
Automakers reportedly are trying to persuade lawmakers across the country to pass rules that benefit them over their competition in the race to develop self-driving cars.
Legislators in at least four states – Georgia, Maryland, Illinois, and Tennessee – allege that General Motors lobbied them to pass bills that would only allow fully self-driving cars that are part of on-demand, ride-sharing fleets and owned by an automaker.
The intention is to freeze out tech companies like of Uber and Alaphabet (parent company of Google)which are both developing self-driving vehicles. Companies like Audi and its parent company, Volkswagen, also worry that the bills could exclude partially self-driving cars such as the one Audi plans to introduce next year.
The draft bill being considered in Tennessee, for instance, says: “Only motor vehicle manufacturers are eligible to participate in a SAVE project, and each motor vehicle manufacturer is responsible for the safe operation of its participating fleet.”
According to Associated Press reports, this is a state-by-state strategy that includes inciting fears.
GM reportedly supports restricting who can deploy the technology and would like to see restrictions that mean only GM. Safety is a legitimate concern, but why should only automakers be permitted to develop self-driving cars?
GM claims they are innocent of any lobbying strategy and that the lawmakers are pursuing these laws in their own. It should be noted that the lawmakers in question have received significant contributions from GM:
[Harry Lightsey, a top GM lobbyist] said lawmakers who have introduced bills are acting on their own, not at GM's behest.
"These bills aren't being introduced at GM's urging," he said.
But several lawmakers told The Associated Press that GM lobbyists asked them to introduce bills based on the Michigan law.
Illinois state Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Democrat, said he sponsored a bill after GM sought him out. State records show Zalewski has received $2,000 in GM campaign contributions. The bill's Republican co-sponsor, state Rep. Tom Demmer, has received $2,500 from GM and the bill's state Senate sponsor, Democrat Martin Sandoval, has received $3,500.
"I don't make a connection between campaign contributions and policy," Zalewski said.
Fortunately, there appear to be some lawmakers who are pushing back against these anti-competition policies. They are right.
Government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in the self-driving car race. Safety is in the interest of the public, but so is the free development of innovation.