- Associated Press - Saturday, April 29, 2017

BOSTON (AP) - The high-tech whiz kids are starting to flex their political muscles on Beacon Hill, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into lobbying aimed at appealing to state lawmakers and helping craft public policy.

Last year, 77 high-tech companies spent about $5.4 million on lobbying - more than double the 48 companies that spent $2.4 million a decade ago, according to an Associated Press review of lobbyist reports filed with the state secretary’s office.

The records not only offer a peak into the business of lobbying, but are another reminder of just how fast the pace of technology has accelerated.

Three of the top four firms doling out the most on lobbying in 2016 didn’t even exist a decade ago.

One of the top spenders was Uber Technologies Inc., founded in 2009 in San Francisco, which paid lobbyists nearly $330,000 to help get the transportation network company’s voice heard at the Statehouse.

The spending coincides with efforts by state lawmakers to regulate ride-hailing companies.

Last year, the state passed what Republican Gov. Charlie Baker called the strongest-in-the-nation background checks for drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft.

Uber and Lyft embraced the new law. Chris Taylor, Uber’s Boston general manager, credited Baker and lawmakers at the time for “creating a framework that embraces an innovative industry that has changed the way the commonwealth moves.”

The two companies then entered into an agreement with Baker to start the background checks a year earlier. About 8,200 drivers failed the checks. More than 62,000 passed. Some drive for both companies.

While Baker later said up to 500 of those who failed had successfully appealed, Uber criticized the background checks as too strict. A representative of the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Uber’s lobbying efforts.

Another top spender was LevelUp, a Boston-based mobile payment app launched in 2011, which also spent about $300,000 on lobbying.

According to the company’s lobbying report, the money was spent to support legislation targeting so-called “patent trolls” - companies that buy up patents and force businesses to pay license fees or face costly litigation.

Specifically the company backed a bill designed to protect Massachusetts companies from what supporters call “abusive patent infringement claims.”

A message left at the company’s headquarters wasn’t immediately returned.

A third top spender was the Boston-based DraftKings, which spent nearly $159,000 on lobbying last year.

According to the company’s report, the focus of that lobbying was the debate in Massachusetts over regulations of daily fantasy sports and online lottery products.

A representative of the company declined to comment.

The surge in lobbying by new high-tech companies - especially those that disrupt existing systems - shouldn’t come as a surprise, according to Mark Gallagher, a spokesman for the Massachusetts High Tech Council.

“I think generally speaking there is a growing recognition in the tech community that public policy on a federal, state and local level can have a material impact on their companies,” Gallagher said.

That’s particularly true when lawmakers are struggling to keep up with lightning-fast changes in the economy brought on by new technologies that might require a policy framework.

“A decade ago, a lot of tech companies were focused more on their companies and less on an appreciation of the impact of policy,” Gallagher said. “That has changed.”


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