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Conservatives Must Be Cautious About Dancing with Airbnb

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File

It’s a truism that politics is a game of addition and multiplication, not division and subtraction.  And when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurial success, conservatives are always on the lookout for successful stories of ingenuity and successful entrepreneurs to ally themselves with.  But when it comes to Airbnb, conservatives should be cautious about positioning themselves too closely—since despite the company’s innovative “disruption” of the lodging industry, Airbnb has consistently allied itself with issues and individuals that would otherwise make conservatives wave an organization off with a firm, “no thanks.”

In terms of individuals, Airbnb has courted high-ranking progressives as both senior employees and advisors.  Eric Holder, Attorney General under President Obama, is an advisor to the company. Ben LaBolt, who was an Obama-era Press Secretary and a consultant to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, is an Airbnb consultant.  Janaye Ingram, on Airbnb’s “National Partnerships” team, is the head of the so-called “Women’s March” and serves as Executive Director of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.  And Chris Lehane, who was an opposition researcher on behalf of the Clintons and Tom Steyer (and labeled a “Master of the Political Dark Arts” by the New York Times), serves as the company’s Head of Global Policy.

The company came under criticism for negotiating “secret tax deals” with cities on behalf (and generally without the input) of its users. Airbnb crafted deals with hundreds of cities, impacting tens of thousands of its users with new taxes and fees.  But this is hardly surprising given the control that Democrats have over America’s urban centers, their unquenching desire for new sources of revenue, it shouldn’t shock anyone that when Democrats are advising a company, that this company will relent and give these cities the tax monies that they need.  It’s even less-surprising when you realize that the vast majority of monetary support given by Airbnb employees goes to Democrats and progressive organizations (according to research from the Center for Responsive Politics), and the anti-Trump stances taken in ads by the company itself!

It’s also why Airbnb’s schizophrenic approach vis a vis Israel shouldn’t be a surprise—given the difficulties the Democratic Party itself has had coming to grips with intense pressure from the BDS movement (the movement which calls for boycotting Israel, divesting from Israel, and imposing sanctions on Israel).  America’s Democrats are no longer the staunch allies of Israel that they once were, and the BDS movement is pressuring both the Democratic Party and American corporations to weaken their support of Israel.

Despite the fact that Airbnb claims that it wasn’t bowing to pressure from or otherwise supporting the BDS movement, in late 2017 it nevertheless abruptly started delisting properties in Israel’s “West Bank”. It was only after an enormous public outcry (and a number of lawsuits) that Airbnb reversed itself.

Airbnb is facing scrutiny right now by Congress for using Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act as a pretext for not being more aggressive about ensuring that properties advertised on their site aren't being used for illegal (and dangerous) practices.  Section 230 of the CDA was designed to protect speech on the internet, not created to circumvent local government law enforcement priorities or to stand against the will of residents and communities who have passed laws trying to protect neighborhoods and keep them safe for families. 

Ironically, it’s a Democrat, Rep. Ed Case (D-HI), who has introduced a bill that has gained Republican sponsors including Rep. Ralph Norman.  While conservatives support free market principles, they definitely don’t take kindly to elitist "Big Tech" companies from San Francisco and Silicon Valley being given preferential treatment because of a loophole in a federal law, a loophole that a small business in America's "flyover states" doesn’t receive.  This is why we have a system of federalism--government is most effective at the local levels and localities should have the right to do what is best for their local citizenry.  

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