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Here's why Silicon Valley is poaching talent from Washington

Washington, D.C. bigwigs have been leaving government jobs to work in the private sector for years. This pipeline out of the Beltway has sent executives all over corporate America, and nowadays, its newest destination is Silicon Valley.

The Washington-Silicon Valley crossover isn’t as surprising as one may think. For starters, both communities have a certain similarity in ambition, namely a desire to effect change on a large scale.

“Pioneers in politics and technology are often focused on big picture efforts to overcome long-standing problems and -- in some select cases -- really change the world,” said Addisu Demissie, vice president and director of grassroots advocacy at the consulting firm the Messina Group.

Tech companies -- both old guard and emerging -- need help navigating the public sector. While each company’s legal battles are specific, many are dragged to court over fraught issues like consumer privacy and safety.

Often, tech companies face off against the old leaders in industries they’re trying to disrupt -- Uber vs. taxi companies, Airbnb vs. hotel chains. Washington graduates help fight these battles by lobbying for new -- and favorable -- regulations in particular industries (their experience and connections prove especially valuable in this, of course).

So how well are these government alumni performing at their new tech jobs? Yahoo Finance picked a few prominent hires and looked at their wins and losses so far.

David Plouffe
Government job: 2008 – 2013, manager of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, senior advisor to Obama administration
Tech job: 2014-present, Uber, senior vice president of policy and strategy

“Choice is a beautiful thing.”

“Change we can believe in.”

Both five-word slogans draw on universally appealing themes coated in a layer of good-old fashioned optimism. And while only the latter is an actual campaign slogan, the first might as well be.  

The mottos tie back to David Plouffe, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager who took a job at Uber last August.

“Choice is a beautiful thing,” is just one piece of Plouffe’s public opinion campaign at Uber that mirrors his Obama 2008 charge. Another notable similarity are his grassroots emails.

However, Plouffe’s Uber gig hasn’t been as objectively successful as his work for Obama. The ride-sharing service has spent much of 2015 facing serious lawsuits over the alleged exploitation of their drivers. Furthermore, they’ve also been banned and/or heavily taxed in several cities outside of the U.S.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is known for his combative nature, which doesn’t make Plouffe’s job any easier. Even so, Plouffe has managed to win Uber approval to operate legally in several U.S cities such as Portland, Ore., Kansas City, Kan., and New Orleans.

The company's most recent win is in New York: on Wendesdy Mayor Bill De Blasio threw out a proposal that would limit Uber's expansion in NYC. New York Magazine reported that Plouffe was incremental in this, he spent the last few months meeting with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Reverend Al Sharpton, and other city officials.

In May, less than a year after he began, Plouffe switched to an advising position in the company while Rachel Whetstone (formerly of Google) took over his former role.

It should be noted that this isn’t necessarily a sign of Plouffe’s incompetence. Uber used to need a crisis manager, now the company needs a rep with experience working in foreign markets with tough regulatory policies.  

Extra credit to Plouffe for this move:


Jay Carney
Government job: 2011-2014, 29th White House press secretary (under Obama administration), 2008-2011, director of communications for Vice President Joe Biden
Tech job: 2015, Amazon senior vice president of worldwide corporate affairs

In an unusual move for the largely internally focused online retailer, Amazon (AMZN) successfully hired Jay Carney, Obama’s former press secretary in March of this year. The company showed serious dedication to its lobbying front even before this move though; the New York Times reported that Amazon spent $5 million on lobbying in 2014.

Amazon has been developing Prime Air, a same-day drone delivery service since 2013. Though the project was stalled by FAA regulations, USA Today speculated that Amazon hired Carney in hopes he could speed up the process through lobbying efforts and D.C. connections.

So far, this one seems like a win for Carney. Two months after his move, Amazon was one of 30 companies exempted from the federal ban on commercial drones. This means the online retailer is allowed to experiment with drone technology under strict guidelines (the drone has to stay within sight of the pilot) until the FAA can implement broader, more permanent regulations.

Susan Molinari
Government job: 1990-1997, House of Representatives (NY-R)
Tech job: 2012-present, Google, vice president of public policy and government relations for the Americas

Not every Capitol Hill transplant once worked under Obama. Molinari, a Republican who served in Congress in the late 1990s, is now head of public policy at Google (GOOGL), based in Washington D.C. (overseeing an $11 million lobbying budget).

Molinari came to Google in 2012, just as the company was beginning to battle some privacy concerns over collecting user data. Two years later, the Washington Post reported that “Google – once a lobbying weakling – has come to master a new method of operating in modern-day Washington.”

Molinari’s role in all of this has not gone unnoticed. She is credited with expanding Google’s appeal to both political parties and helping to prevent a potentially ruinous antitrust lawsuit from 2012.  

David Hantman
Government job:  2005-2007, Chief of staff to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), 1998-2005, Chief counsel to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Tech job: 2012-present, Airbnb, head of global public policy, 2007-2012, Yahoo, deputy general counsel and VP global public policy

When Hantman made the move from the government to the tech world, he didn’t have to go far, at least geographically. Hantman currently runs public policy at Airbnb from an office inside the Beltway. Prior to that, he held a similar lobbying role at Yahoo (YHOO) (parent company of Yahoo Finance).

Hantman joined the home-sharing company in 2012, about a year after it began opening international offices in cities like Hamburg, Paris, Moscow and Sao Paulo. During his tenure, Airbnb has won legislative approval in cities such as Nashville, San Francisco and San Jose.

But there have been a few regulatory bumps in the road in one of its biggest U.S. markets: New York City. The company is in a stalemate with the city council over a multiple dwelling law, which prohibits the kind of short-term home rentals that are Airbnb’s business.

Last week the New York Post reported that the city is spending $2.8 million in an effort to shut down illegal home conversions—which would include an estimated 15,500 illegal Airbnb rentals.

There are plenty of D.C. notables who’ve made the move to Silicon Valley (though not all of them have had to face such tricky regulatory battles). Here are a few other people of interest:

-Marne Levine: former Obama staffer, now chief operating officer at Instagram
-Joe Lockhart: White House press secretary under Bill Clinton, managed Facebook’s (FB) corporate policy and international communications team for 15 months
-Lisa P. Jackson: former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama, currently oversees environmental strategy at Apple (AAPL)