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New emails reveal how Marc Andreessen courted Rahm Emanuel on Airbnb’s behalf

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Speaks At Brookings Institution Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Lawsuits from the Chicago Tribune and Better Government Association have forced Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to release thousands of pages of email correspondence from a private account, and the documents are providing an unusual glimpse at how influential Silicon Valley figures get work done.

One notable email dates back to November 2015. At the time, Airbnb was facing the possibility of new regulatory scrutiny in the city, and was concerned about the possible effects on its business. According to an email chain, Airbnb turned to Valley investor Marc Andreessen, whose firm, Andreessen Horowitz, has invested in the company.

“We know [new regulations] are close to complete, but are concerned about the direction things are going,” Airbnb Head of Global Policy and Public Affairs Chris Lehane wrote to firm partner Ted Ullyot. Specifically, the company was worried about any new fees or registration policies. The company had already met with the mayor’s staff, but a call from Andreessen might help, Lehane suggested.

Ullyot forwarded the note along to Andreessen, adding that Emanuel had not been “deeply involved” in the discussions so far, but saying a call might break the ice. “I can try!” Andreessen replied to the request.

It worked. Andreessen forwarded the entire email chain to Emanuel’s account, saying his “colleagues at Airbnb are hoping to get a few minutes of your time to discuss the shifting home sharing regulatory landscape.”

“I will have my staff arrange,” Emanuel responded.

What happened at the meeting isn’t clear, but Andreessen emailed Emanuel in December to thank him for taking time to meet with Airbnb. And if Emanuel was not deeply involved in the home-sharing regulation process before, he seemed to be after. In January, he proposed new regulations on home-sharing.

Notably, the newly proposed regulations required registration for homes only if they were offered for rent more than 90 days a year. This was nearly word for word what Lehane first proposed in his email, who noted other cities had only required registration “if one was doing short term rentals at an intense level (90 days).” (That section was later scrapped in favor of monthly lists of "shared housing units” to be provided by Airbnb.)

At the time, the mayor’s proposal was described in the press as a “crackdown,” and did include a tax on rentals, but a group of politicians in the city suggested the rules were insufficient. The city passed them in June.

The interaction is not necessarily uncouth, but as Ullyot noted in his request to Andreessen, it was “a pretty unusual ask” from Airbnb to Andreessen, especially if the company had already met with others on the mayor’s staff to discuss the issue. It’s also a rare window into how high-level Valley players interact with a city government.

“We work collaboratively with cities throughout the world on clear, progressive rules for home sharing,” an Airbnb spokesperson said in a statement. “Speaking with policymakers and community leaders is essential to crafting home sharing rules that work for everyone.”

Andreessen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.