Airbnb is proving itself to the quite the political operator. In an ethics complaint filed today in San Francisco, Airbnb has been accused using off-the-books lobbyists to help push legislation that legalized the startup.
The complaint—filed by The League of Pissed Off Voters, a San Francisco progressive organization—is a response to legislation favorable towards Airbnb passed by the city earlier this month. Records show that Airbnb helped city Supervisor David Chiu begin authoring the legislation 22 months before it went to a vote.
However, the league's complaint also alleges that Chiu received "daily contact" from a campaign consultant who was on Airbnb's payroll:
David Chiu's campaign consultant, Nicole Derse, is the co-founders of 50+1 Strategies, which was also hired by Airbnb to recruit users of Airbnb to lobby members of the Board of Supervisors to pass an ordinance friendly to Airbnb's business practices.
Considering that 50+1 Strategies staff are in daily contact with David Chiu regarding his campaign for state assembly, which in recent months has strategized around the legalization of short-term rentals on Airbnb, it is indisputable that 50+1 Strategies staff have discussed Airbnb with Chiu. Doing so is a clear violation of Section 2.117 of San Francisco's Campaign and Government Code, pertaining to ethical restrictions on campaign consultants.
The complaint further accuses Nicole Derse and 50+1 Strategies of acting as Airbnb's lobbyists without properly registering with the city's Ethics Commission.
Chiu denied there was any impropriety, saying, "There is no conflict, 50+1 is not lobbying, period."
"I never discussed Airbnb with 50+1 staff engaged with [my campaign]," Chiu said. "I don't think there's even an appearance [of conflict] here."
Derse also refuted the charge, saying, "We're not lobbyists."
Supervisor Chiu is known for having close ties to Airbnb. Early Airbnb investors Ron Conway and Reid Hoffman rewarded Chiu for passing the legislation with a $600,000 smear campaign against his electoral opponent.
In a statement, the League of Pissed Off Voters called upon the Ethics Commission to "expedite their investigation of this matter, publicize their results, and swiftly pursue criminal, civil, and administrative penalties against anyone found to have violated the law."
We've reached out to Airbnb for comment, but have not received a response.