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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Gig companies backing a California ballot measure that would let them continue to classify drivers as contractors face increasing criticism for some of the tactics they are funding.

Why it matters: Passing the proposition is the only way for ride-hailing and delivery gig companies to continue operating as they have been after California passed a law requiring them to treat their workers as employees.

The big picture: Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates and Instacart have spent about $184 million on the "Yes on Prop. 22" campaign, making it the most expensive in California's history.

  • The companies are pursuing a state ballot measure to secure the ability to classify their drivers as independent contractors after a law codifying stricter requirements went into effect at the beginning of the year.
  • Uber and Lyft are currently in a court battle that would force them to reclassify drivers if they lose in November. Others are facing similar legal challengers.

Driving the news: The campaign has been paying to be included in what's known as "slate mailers," mass flyers that support multiple candidates and measures, in an apparent effort to associate their proposition with progressive candidates and causes, according to SF Gate.

  • "Every campaign and candidate listed in the slate mailer pays the slate vendors to appear," a campaign spokesman tells Axios. "We’re one of half a dozen campaigns represented on the mailer and all expenses related to the mailers are reported in our campaign spending reports."
  • This follows Uber and Lyft's recent rollout of messages about Prop. 22 in their driver and passenger apps, which raised some criticism over their pushiness and lack of transparency. "We are using Uber’s app primarily to help mobilize the tens of thousands of drivers who use Uber, 72% of whom support Prop 22," an Uber spokesperson told Axios, adding that the in-app message to drivers has since been changed to directing them to information.
  • Grocery delivery company Instacart has also made campaign inserts available in one Bay Area store for its workers to include in customer orders, though the company says those were voluntary. "As part of our support for Prop 22, we’re communicating directly with customers and shoppers on this important issue," says a spokesperson.

Flashback: This is far from the first time the companies have pushed their customers and drivers to advocate on behalf of their politics.

  • In 2015, Uber used its ride-hailing app to promote its opposition to NYC Mayer Bill de Blasio's proposed caps on the number of cars roaming the city.
  • Fellow "sharing economy" company Airbnb also made headlines that year for a set of sarcastic ads touting its tax contributions as part of its efforts to defeat a San Francisco ballot proposition.

Go deeper: The gig economy is on the ballot

Go deeper

California fines Uber $59 million over sexual assault data

Photo: Liu Guanguan/China News Service via Getty Images

A judge ordered Uber on Monday to pay a $59 million fine to California’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and threatened to suspend its state permit to operate if the firm fails to do so within 30 days.

The big picture: The judge found the ride-hailing giant had failed to share data with the regulator following Uber's safety report last year, which revealed that U.S. users reported nearly 6,000 incidents of sexual assault and harassment on trips made in 2017 and 2018.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
37 mins ago - Economy & Business

Why it's so hard to tax wealth

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The wealth tax that wasn't a wealth tax isn't even a tax, now. The Democrats had a meticulously constructed 107-page proposal to pay for a large chunk of their spending plans with a tax on billionaires, but it died ignobly on Wednesday, the same day it was unveiled.

Why it matters: The dream of a wealth tax will never die as it so neatly generates revenue by reducing inequality. But there are three main reasons why that dream is likely to remain just a dream for the foreseeable future.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
2 hours ago - Health

Public health messaging lessons for the next pandemic

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

"Be first, be right, be credible" is the mantra of public health experts in a crisis. It's difficult to argue that the health community has regularly managed to be any of those three during COVID-19.

Why it matters: A pandemic isn't just a medical emergency — it's also a communications emergency. The U.S. public health establishment, hamstrung by bad data and political interference, has struggled with the latter.