Last year, Airbnb Inc. launched a lobbying campaign as President Donald Trump was calling for limits on American travel to Cuba.
The vacation-rental booking site, which considers Cuba one of its fastest-growing markets, fought hard to ensure the Trump administration’s updated rules allowed American travelers to stay in Cubans’ homes when they visit.
In June, Trump promised to crack down on President Barack Obama’s efforts to restore relations with Cuba and directed his agencies to draft new legislation that would restrict commercial ties and travel to the island nation. When the Treasury Department issued updated rules in early November, it restricted the use of many hotels. However, a section called “Support for the Cuban People” let Americans stay “in a room at a rented accommodation in a private Cuban residence.”
The apparent triumph for San Francisco-based Airbnb highlights the upstart’s emerging influence in Washington. In the second and third quarters of 2017 — when Airbnb was arguing its case on Cuba — the startup spent $250,000 and lobbied the Senate, the House of Representatives and agencies including the State Department and the National Security Council, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Not all of Airbnb’s lobbying activities have succeeded. It hired the Podesta Group, founded by Democratic mega-lobbyist Tony Podesta, whose brother John was a top official in the Bill Clinton White House and served as Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.
Airbnb also used Mercury Public Affairs. Both lobbying groups worked with indicted Trump campaign operative Paul Manafort, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg in November. The Podesta Group has shut down now and Airbnb no longer works with Mercury. Nick Papas, a spokesman for Airbnb, declined to comment.
–With assistance from Bill Allison and Ben Brody
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.