Tesla head Elon Musk talk with journalism as he gets here to take a look at the building website of the brand-new Tesla Gigafactory near Berlin on September 03, 2020 near Gruenheide, Germany.
Maja Hitij|Getty Images
Elon Musk has actually informed his 10s of countless social networks fans that he “would prefer to stay out of politics.”
Yet, with a mix of garbage talk and huge costs, the multibillionaire magnate behind Tesla and Space X has actually ended up being a political force.
Musk himself has actually personally taken chance ats political leaders and federal government regulators, consisting of digs at President Joe Biden and a current sexually tinged insult targeted at a U.S. senator. Behind the scenes, Musk and his greatest business, Space X and Tesla, have for years worked to affect the U.S. political landscape, consisting of through lobbying and political contributions. Combined, Space X and Tesla have actually invested over $2 million on lobbying this year.
Musk has likewise just recently vocally opposed Biden’s assistance for arranged labor. In specific, he challenge a tax credit proposition that would offer a $4,500 discount rate to customers purchasing electrical cars made by unionized autoworkers, providing Big Three car manufacturers an edge over Tesla, Toyota and others.
Musk has actually likewise ranted versus a proposed billionaire’s earnings tax, implicated federal automobile security regulators of anti-Tesla predisposition, and upbraided the Federal Aviation Administration for having a “fundamentally broken regulatory structure,” in his view.
His business have actually put their cash to work to affect the federal government in other methods. During the 3rd quarter, which covered from July through September, Tesla and Space X both lobbied Biden’s White House and other parts of his administration, according to current disclosures.
Musk’s aerospace business, Space X, has actually invested simply under $1.8 million this year alone on lobbying, after investing over $2 million in 2015, according to information from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Tesla, the electrical automobile and renewable resource business he runs, has actually invested over $400,000 on federal lobbying this year through September, currently more than it invested in the totality of in 2015.
By method of contrast, Ford has actually invested $2.6 million on lobbying this year. (The business offers countless cars every year, while Tesla has actually not yet gone beyond 1 million shipments in a single year.) Jeff Bezos’ aerospace endeavor, Blue Origin, has actually invested around $1.4 million on lobbying up until now this year.
Musk, Tesla, Space X and the White House did not return ask for remark for this story.
Working with both sides
Even when he prevents talking about a hot button concern, such as Texas’ limiting abortion law, Musk makes political waves.
“In general, I believe government should rarely impose its will upon the people, and, when doing so, should aspire to maximize their cumulative happiness,” Musk told CNBC in a September tweet responding to a question about the Texas law. “That said, I would prefer to stay out of politics.” Musk’s companies and private foundation are growing their operations substantially in Texas.
Musk hasn’t been shy about backing certain candidates, either.
In 2020, Musk verbally endorsed Andrew Yang as a Democratic candidate for president, based on Yang’s support of a universal basic income. He also called California’s coronavirus stay at home orders “fascist” and famously kept Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory running for weeks, openly defying the orders.
During that time, he tweeted “Take the red pill,” including a red rose emoji with the tweet. The “red pill” is a symbol from “The Matrix” co-opted by right wing extremists and others, while the red rose is a symbol used by the Democratic Socialists of America.
Musk has regularly contributed to candidates of both parties, too, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics that dates back to about 2002 (see chart below). Other business leaders such as longtime investors Nelson Peltz and Leon Cooperman employ the same bipartisan giving strategy.
Musk has contributed to a wide variety of campaigns, with the most recent Federal Election Commission filings showing he gave to the Republican National Committee. Those individual contributions do not include the SpaceX political action committee’s $210,000-plus in campaign contributions to congressional candidates from both sides of the aisle during the first half of 2021.
Musk, historically, has contributed slightly more to Democrats and their causes, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. In the previous 2020 election cycle, Musk contributed to Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Gary Peters, D-Mich. He also gave to Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
Musk’s companies also rely on lobbyists with links to both major parties.
Recently, Tesla and SpaceX hired at least two new lobbyists that have prior experience working on Capitol Hill.
Jonathan Carter, who was a legislative aide to Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., became a policy advisor to Tesla in April, according to his LinkedIn page. Carter was a “lead staff member to Senator Blumenthal on Auto Safety, Census, Small Business, Sports, and Trade issues,” his profile says.
Blumenthal is a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, which has jurisdiction over highway safety, transportation and nonmilitary aeronautical and space science, among other items that impact Tesla’s business.
Blumenthal has publicly taken aim at Tesla’s driver assistance systems, marketed as Autopilot and Full Self-Driving software. In a tweet in September, Blumenthal said using this technology was a form of “Russian Roulette” for drivers.
Carter was among a group of Tesla lobbyists that in the third quarter lobbied Biden’s White House, the Departments of Energy and Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Commerce. Carter’s team also engaged with House and Senate lawmakers last quarter.
A disclosure report shows that the lobbying effort by Tesla focused on a variety of issues, including solar permitting, autonomous vehicle related policies, infrastructure, the Highway Trust Fund and EV charging.
Meanwhile, over that same time period, Musk suggested at a conference in late September that he and Tesla were being treated unfairly because they weren’t invited to an electric vehicle summit at the White House.
“Does this sound maybe a little biased or something? And you know, just — it’s not the friendliest administration. Seems to be controlled by unions, as far as I can tell,” Musk said at the time. The White House summit was in August.
His space company in the third quarter also recently hired at least one former aide to a powerful senator and has engaged directly with Biden’s administration, including the White House.
Joseph Petrzelka, who was an aide to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., for over four years, became a global government affairs manager for SpaceX in September, according to his LinkedIn page. Feinstein is a member of the transportation, housing and urban development subcommittee, which is under the Senate Appropriations Committee. Their jurisdiction covers the Department of Transportation.
Though Petrzelka is not listed on SpaceX’s third quarter report, the company spent $590,000 directly lobbying lawmakers, including Biden’s Executive Office of the President, Department of Defense, the National Aeronautics & Space Administration, the Department of Transportation, the National Security Council and the Federal Aviation Administration. NASA certified SpaceX in November 2020 to carry astronauts to-and-from orbit. SpaceX also lobbied members of Congress.
For its part, SpaceX has notched federal contracts worth a total of about $10.5 billion since 2003, most of that from its work with NASA. In 2021, those contracts have amounted to around $2 billion with $1.6 billion of that from NASA, according to data tracked by GovWin that was viewed by CNBC.
SpaceX is going through a tense, environmental review process that will determine whether they can start building out and launching their Starship vehicle from a site in Boca Chica, Texas, or whether they need to complete a more formal assessment that could cost them years.
The over $500,000 paid by SpaceX last quarter for lobbying does not include separate fees paid to outside government influencers.
SpaceX paid $90,000 in the third quarter to Invariant, which was founded by longtime lobbyist Heather Podesta, to lobby the Executive Office of the President, the Department of Transportation and Department of Interior, according to the latest disclosure report. Podesta, who has raised campaign money for Democrats for well over a decade, is one of the Invariant lobbyists engaging lawmakers for SpaceX.
The lobbying report says the firm attempted to influence the Biden administration for SpaceX to “support commercial launch provisions in NASA programs, appropriations, reconciliation, and S.1260, United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021.”
SpaceX also hired Miller Strategies, which is run by Jeff Miller, a staunch ally of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif, and former President Donald Trump. SpaceX paid the firm $30,000 in the third quarter to lobby the House and Senate on “issues as they relate to space transportation and space transportation costs,” according to the latest lobbying report. Miller was one of the lobbyists trying to influence lawmakers for SpaceX last quarter.
Musk’s battles with regulators are often public and messy.
After the National Transportation Safety Board and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigated Tesla for vehicle safety defects this year, Musk accused them of bias.
One recent major NHTSA probe of Tesla will determine whether the company’s Autopilot driver assistance software was partly or wholly to blame in crashes that involved Tesla cars ramming into parked, first responder vehicles on the side of the road.
After that probe was underway, the White House said that it was appointing Steven Cliff to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and would also hire a former Navy fighter pilot and Duke University engineering and computer science professor, Missy Cummings, as a senior advisor for safety.
Musk targeted Cummings, a known Tesla critic, on Twitter, stating “objectively, her track record is extremely biased against Tesla.” Fans of Tesla and Musk started accosting her on social networks while trying to ruin her bio page on Wikipedia.
Cummings had market experience as a board member for Veoneer, a self-governing automobile tech business. Some Tesla fans asked whether that association was a possible dispute of interest. Cummings resigned from the business’s board reliableNov 1 having actually accepted the NHTSA task.
Meanwhile, Musk who has actually encountered the NTSB for many years, and Tesla have actually declined to embrace security suggestions from the independent federal security authority.
Musk has actually likewise revealed his annoyance with the SEC onmultiple occasions on Twitter In 2018, Musk and the commission reached a settlement over remarks Musk made about an eventually deserted strategy to take Tesla personal.
Twitter flame wars
Musk has actually taken numerous digs atBiden When Space X introduced a nonprofessional flight team into orbit in September, for example, Musk groused that the president did not personally contact us to praise the astronauts associated with the historical objective.
Musk has actually likewise taken objective at Biden by echoing a joke made byTrump “He’s still sleeping,” Musk stated at the time, practically matching the previous president’s “Sleepy Joe” insults.
Politics can be individual for Musk, too, specifically when it concerns the fight over his billions.
Musk has actually the greatest approximated net worth on the planet at over $300 billion, according toForbes He is among about 700 individuals who would be effected by a brand-new tax proposition from Democrats drifted by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore in October.
The proposition is for a tax on billionaires’ financial investment gains every year to assist financing President Joe Biden’s $1.75 trillion safeguard bundle. The so-called billionaire’s earnings tax would close a loophole that has actually allowed the extremely abundant to delay capital gains taxes forever, a technique referred to as “buy, borrow, die.”
When Wyden released the billionaire’s earnings tax proposition, Musk vociferously objected on Twitter:
In current days, the CEO asked his 62.5 million fans to enact a casual Twitter survey to figure out whether he must offer 10% of his Tesla holdings, and deal with a huge tax expense.
In action, Wyden composed in a tweet: “Whether or not the world’s wealthiest man pays any taxes at all shouldn’t depend on the results of a Twitter poll.”
Musk countered at Wyden with a repulsive and disparaging tweet, stating “Why does your pp [profile picture] appear like u simply came?”
Wyden’s spokesperson did not return an ask for remark.