By on February 24, 2017

GM: Barra at 2016 GM Annual Stockholders Meeting

For now, legislation restricting the use of those pesky self-driving cars is mainly up to individual states. Because no one wants an experimental, untested car piloting their local roadways, states have erected legislative safety barriers that, for the most part, restrict pilot projects in certain areas, or on certain roads.

As everyone waits for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make up its mind and put blanket regulations in place, an angry chorus of complaints from Silicon Valley startups is growing louder, accusing state lawmakers of favoring the old guard when it comes to fostering automotive technology.

Only naturally, concerns about corporate money influencing government decisions arose. One automaker’s political action fund seems more active than others

When Michigan declared itself open for self-driving business late last year, the legislative package contained a big asterisk. The door was open, but only for the testing of autonomous cars build by established automakers. This pleased the Detroit Three, as well as other automakers using the state’s facilities and roadways, but tech startups cried foul.

While the declaration was dialed back to include technology companies before being passed into law, other states simply took the original Michigan bill and used it as a template. No Uber or Waymo-friendly amendments in sight. Include Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Tennessee in that list.

Speaking to the Associated Press, GM’s top lobbyist for cyber and connected cars, Harry Lightsey, said that automakers push for restrictive legislation on autonomous vehicles out of a concern for safety.

For self-driving vehicles to flourish, “public acceptance of the technology is going to be very critical,” he said. “If somebody is allowed to put technology on the roads and highways that proves to be unsafe, that could have very harmful repercussions.”

Lightsey claims GM does not grease the wheels of self-driving legislation. “These bills aren’t being introduced at GM’s urging,” he said.

Four lawmakers who passed bills similar to Michigan’s say otherwise. Illinois state Rep. Mike Zalewski (D) said he sponsored a bill after GM sought him out and encouraged him to get behind the legislation.

Campaign contributions, in allowable amounts from above-board donors, are perfectly legal, yet remain a favorite target for those seeking to promote political purity and the separation of the corporate and political worlds. And with good reason: the optics stink.

As the Associated Press reports:

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.

Zalewski told AP he doesn’t draw connections between donations and policy. It’s worth noting that Zalewski saw more donations from various trade unions than GM during his 2016 state run, which shouldn’t shock anyone who’s ever dug through campaign finances. As for the optics of influence, any politician will tell you that no one sells out for a couple grand.

While the General Motors Company Political Action Committee remains a very active campaign donor, it isn’t alone. The Ford Motor Company Civic Action Fund is equally active but, in this case, its donations don’t overlap with GM’s.

Maryland state Sen. William Ferguson (D) introduced a similar bill after being contacted by GM lobbyists who said the automaker would “certainly look more favorably toward expanding [a transmission plant] in Maryland if there were a legal framework to test and develop (self-driving cars) more freely.” Ferguson later added to his remarks, claiming there was no specific promise made by GM.

In Tennessee, a Michigan 1.0-type bill introduced last year is slowly advancing towards becoming a law. GM, including Lightsey, applauded the proposed legislation, which would allow automakers to run pilot projects for autonomous ride-sharing fleets. Once again, GM’s cash makes an appearance.

The political action committee for Sen. Mark Green (R), the bill’s sponsor, received $3,000 from GM. House sponsor William Lamberth II (R) saw $2,000 from the automaker before the bill’s introduction. Green is on record as saying he would like the legislation to be more competitive.

In Arizona and Colorado, lobbying efforts by GM have so far failed to result in restrictive legislation that favors established automakers.

“We didn’t want to pick winners and losers in the autonomous vehicle arena,” Colorado state Rep. Faith Winter (D) told AP.

[Image: General Motors]

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20 Comments on “GM Lobbyist Says Company Doesn’t Push Bills, Lawmakers Disagree...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    We don’t buy legislators off. Honest, we don’t!

  • avatar
    opfreak

    and the lie detector determined…..

    that was a lie

  • avatar
    KevinB

    As a life long member of America’s military-industrial complex, where defense contractors spend millions on lobbyists, I can tell you that their main function is to destroy through legislation any competitive advantage of their rivals. GM is doing the same thing here. They are behind the curve on self-driving cars and want to instill FUD in their competitor’s abilities.

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    Not unlike GM fighting to ban direct sales by manufacturers.

    • 0 avatar
      FOG

      I was under the impression that it is the dealers in Michigan that don’t want Cars sold directly to the customer. If the Detroit 3 could bypass dealers they would in a heartbeat.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Kevin, I salute you. Brilliant and succinct:

    “…main function is to destroy thru legislation any competitive advantage of their rivals.”

    Quote of the day!

    This is our Federal Govt in general is so SEEMINGLY inept. They are beholden. “Deep State” details this, good book.

    And now, the great disrupter Trump threatens the arrangements that not only make defense contractors rich, but also big banks, and myriad other special interests.

    Go DONALD!

    • 0 avatar
      KevinB

      Thanks, Tom. However, my intent was not to make a statement reflecting the current political climate.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Sorry, Tom, I seem to have missed any concrete proposals the president has made to end the influence of money in politics. I’ve seen lots of hot air but no real proposals. Therefore, I have little confidence that this issue is actually on his radar. Perhaps you could enlighten me?

      It’s easy to blame the government for this, but in the end, the corrupting influence of money in politics is the failure of We The People, not the government. If we tell the government that legalized bribery isn’t to be tolerated anymore, it won’t be. Problem is, we haven’t done that.

      And, I’m sorry, but I’ve seen little, if anything, from Trump or any other Republican not named “McCain” to address this problem. Indeed, Republicans cheered the loudest when the Citizens United decision came down. Perhaps this has changed? If so, I’d sure like to see evidence of it.

      (Don’t take that as a taunt…I’d actually like to see how Republicans would address this problem. If they have ideas, let’s hear ’em.)

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    I didn’t mean to hi-jack your brilliant quote, or take it some where you may not agree.

    So, setting aside Trump, there are numerous examples of using legislation in lieu of competing in the marketplace.

    If you have time and care to do so, “Deep State” by Michael Lofgren has several examples of this. Not just defense industry.

    But as far as automotive, the laws are such that it is extremely difficult for a new automaker to enter the market place, or even to sell their products.

    • 0 avatar
      FOG

      It’s not you Tom. FreedMike is a one trick pony. You will learn to just skip over his posts.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Why? Because I’m looking to have a rational discussion on an important topic?

        Read my post. I’m looking for ideas. If they make sense, I’ll discuss them. If it boils down to the usual “beta-male,” “snowflake,” “unhinged liberal” garbage (or “stupid racist conservative” nonsense, for that matter)…well, in that case, whose posts are worth skipping over?

        Unfortunately, I’ve heard little aside from campaign hot air from the president on this, and nothing from conservatives. If this guy has an idea on how to put a stop to this nonsense, then I’m truly all ears. Scout’s Honor.

        • 0 avatar
          FOG

          FreedMike, I had to read your direct reply, but I said in my statement that I have learned to skip over your posts as they don’t add any value to my life or new information to the topic. It’s Blah, Blah, Blah, Republicans… blah, blah, blah… I am the smartest guy on the internet…

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Actually, I don’t say “blah blah blah Repulicans”…I wouldn’t misspell “Republican.” After all, I am the smartest guy on the Internet.

            Sorry, couldn’t resist.

            Seriously, I don’t have a problem with “Republicans.” What I have a problem with is Republicans or conservatives who figure that because I disagree with them politically, I’m less than male, or stupid, or whatever. What’s unfortunate is that this is what passes as “conservatism” for lots of conservatives. And that’s really, really unfortunate. There’s value to a lot of what the actual conservative ideology stands for, even for someone who’s pretty liberal, like me.

            And if you read my posts, you’ll find I’ve taken quite a few folks on “my side of the aisle” to town for this kind of trolling too.

            Just sayin’. I’m looking for a discussion. If someone has ideas to share and wants to do it respectfully, I’m all for it. If someone goes down the “you’re a beta male special snowflake” path, then it’s on.

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    If they didn’t push bills, wouldn’t they -not- need a lobbyist?

  • avatar

    When this technology is found to be unsafe all this will be for nothing. I would never trust a computer to run a car autonomously at highway speeds. If a deer runs on to the road at those speeds there is no match for the human brain to respond quickly. Would an onboard computer really be able to instantly identify an object in its path fast enough to avoid it? This technology is just not capable of making the subtle distinctions that the human brain can. The place to test artificial intelligence is not on the nation’s highways, but in the lab.

    Autonomous driving vehicles are just the latest fade that the industry is latching onto. I predict after a few horrific accidents this technology will gradually fade away. In fact, there have already been quite a few accidents. That is not to say some of this technology does not have a place in the future. In Collison avoidance, this technology could be beneficial. Also, in case the driver is incapacitated in some way the self-driving technology could took over control and bring the vehicle to a stop.

    This technology has a part to play in the future, but I just don’t see it taking over the entire process of driving a vehicle. Auto pilot is fine for aviation since collisions can be predicted way in advance. However, in the congested environment of highway driving split second reaction times are necessary and I don’t believe autonomous vehicles will react fast enough.

    I say give this technology a few more years until reality finally takes over and it fades away. However, there will some benefits to this research that will make driving safer in the long term.


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