Who Runs Philly? Part 9: The local lobbying firm working for Uber and private prisons

Who Runs Philly? is an ongoing project from Philly Power Research focused on highlighting the powerful people, organizations, businesses, and interest groups that shape Philadelphia. This post features The Kinser Group, an influential lobbying firm. To explore campaign finance data on your own, check out our tool: The Philadelphia Campaign Finance Data Explorer

Kinser Group clients include Uber, Geo Group, SEPTA, and local anchor institutions like the Philadelphia Museum of Art

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At the end of March, Uber was once again in the news for its questionable business practices. This time, drivers in LA were staging mass protests citing their low pay, poor working conditions, and lack of legal protections as contractors. While drivers in LA were staging this protest, drivers in cities around the world, including Philadelphia, have complained of similar issues.

Why, in the face of outcries by both drivers and passengers against the services lack of worker and consumer protections,  is Uber allowed to continue expanding in Philadelphia? It may have something to do with the company’s robust PR and lobbying strategy. In Philadelphia, Uber’s corporate interests are defended by a lobbying firm called the Kinser Group.

The Kinser Group represents an eclectic mix of clients including local anchor institutions like The Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as venture capitalist startups. They represent Uber while also presumably working to protect the interests of Philadelphia’s public transportation by representing SEPTA. Among its other clients are Sonder , a company similar to Airbnb. Air Bnb has of course been criticized for disrupting neighborhoods and driving gentrification.

The Kinser Group also lobbies  for Geo Group, one of the world’s largest private prison companies. Geo Group profits from and enables Trump’s brutal immigrant detention policies. In response to pressure from activists, big banks including JPMorgan Chase recently announced they will no longer finance private prison companies such as Geo Group.

The Kinser Group donates to Philly politicians including Derek Green, Curtis Jones Jr., and Darrell Clarke

Kinser Group President Holly Kinser maxed out her contributions to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary. The Kinser Group also contributed a more modest amount to some Philadelphia city council people. Since the beginning of 2018, the group donated $500 each to the campaigns for Derek Green, Curtis Jones Jr., and Darrell Clarke. They also contributed $250 to Helen Gym, Bobby Henon, and Kenyatta Johnson.

Notably, Curtis Jones Jr. is the only city council person who took money directly from the Geo Group. On 8/30/2018, he accepted $500 from the private prison corporation.

Because the Kinser Group represents such a wide range of clients, it is difficult to say whose interests they are representing when they donate to politicians. The Free Library of Philadelphia? Or GEO Group? The Please Touch Museum? Or Uber?

Kinser Group President Holly Kinser is a longtime political powerhouse

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The daughter of a Reagan administration official, Kinser Group President Holly Kinser has been well known lobbyist since the late 1990s. Both her and Kinser Group VP Beth Brennan worked with lobbying firm Sr Wojdak and Associates for upwards of a decade.

The Kinser Group got its start lobbying on behalf of the City of Philadelphia  in Harrisburg. On the firm’s website president Holly Kinser cites some of the policy victories the Nutter Administration scored with their help. Most of these seem to involve making the city more hospitable to big development interests. One of the firm’s cited “victories” is the construction of the Talen Energy Stadium, a project that failed to deliver on many economic development promises. The site also mentions reforms including the creation of tax free zones to encourage “economic development.” While it is unclear exactly which tax free zones the site is referring to, this practice has been widely criticized.

The Kinser Group is one of Philly’s most influential lobbying firms. Looking at their client list gives us some clues about which corporations are aiming to influence Philly’s elected officials this year.