Airbnb is doing whatever it can to defeat Prop F, the ballot measure that would outlaw listing a San Francisco housing unit on Airbnb or other "home-sharing" websites for more than 75 nights per year. Whether cutting checks
to the city’s political power brokers, waging an advertising charm offensive
, comparing itself to Ellis Island
, or turning “homespun Americana horseshit”
into a PR opportunity, Airbnb is determined to come out on top.
Today, the company announced it has hired former White House strategist Chris Lehane to be its new head of global policy and public affairs. Lehane, nicknamed the “Master of Disaster,” is a high-profile spin doctor best known for managing fallout from Whitewater and the Monica Lewinsky affair during Bill Clinton’s scandal-plagued presidency.
As the Chronicle
reports, Lehane lives in San Francisco and has already been working as a consultant with the No on F campaign. Lehane has previously represented Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, filmmaker Michael Moore, AT&T, NextGen Climate, and other clients. According to the New York Times
, "through his private consulting practice, Fabiani and Lehane, Mr. Lehane has also done work for Lyft, the ride-hailing start-up."
“I am committed to playing to win when it comes to standing up and fighting for the rights of everyday people to share their homes,” Lehane told the Times
This suggests that Lehane’s strategy will be presenting Airbnb as a resource for middle class San Franciscans to earn extra income and stay in their homes — a message the company has already been fine-tuning, as an ad from June
The revolving door between tech and the Beltway is well documented. In July, Politico
published a story calling San Francisco the “the city on the hill(s) for Obama alums,” citing the long roll call of wonks who heeded the siren song of tech dollars and headed west:
It’s more than just David Plouffe, who moved out for a multimillion-dollar job at Uber. The not nearly exhaustive list includes: Obama speechwriter Kyle O’Connor, now at Nest; Michelle Obama’s former deputy communications director Semonti Stephens, now at Square; director of citizen participation Katie Jacobs Stanton, now at Twitter; ’08 regional and field director Mike Masserman, now at Lyft; Brandon Lepow, who did advance for the Obama campaign and communications for the White House, now at Facebook; legislative affairs special assistant Nicole Isaac, now at LinkedIn; director of research Liz Jarvis-Shean, first at Tesla and now and currently consulting for Civis; campaign staff director for technology Jim Green, now at Salesforce, along with Obama’s first chief information officer, Vivek Kundra; ’08 regional field director Alex McPhillips, at Google; ’08 regional Gillian Bergeron, at NextDoor; Organizing for America digital director Natalie Foster, at the Institute for the Future; Tech4Obama program manager Catherine Bracy, now at Code for America; ’08 deputy Wisconsin director Hallie Montoya Tansey, at an education-tech startup called Schoolzilla. Nick Papas, John Baldo, Courtney O’Donnell and Clark Stevens are all now at Airbnb. Jessica Santillo, the former White House assistant press secretary who handled much of the Healthcare.gov meltdown response, was the most recent to arrive, now to be a spokeswoman at Uber, along with White House director of strategic & message initiatives Jordan Burke, associate director of intergovernmental affairs Kellyn Blossom and assistant to the deputy White House chief of staff Sarah Fenn.
Lehane "is a pugnacious political adversary, known for thoroughly researching his opponents, who advocates going into so-called 'warrior mode' to defend his clients and compatriots," reports the Times
Last year, Lehane co-wrote a book, Masters of Disaster: The Ten Commandments of Damage Control
, outlining “the strategies that can make real time news alerts, Twitter trend lines and viral videos work for you rather against you,” according to the jacket copy.
Perhaps most relevant to the showdown over Prop F is Lehane’s First Commandment of damage control: Full disclosure. Given Airbnb’s refusal to release numbers quantifying its impact on San Francisco, Lehane should be prepared to sin against himself.