Car manufacturers pool $25m to fight auto repair ballot question
Repair shops pony up $9.2m to gain additional data
THE NATIONAL AUTOMOTIVE industry is ponying up huge sums of money to defeat a question on the Massachusetts ballot that would give independent auto repair shops the right to access more information about the cars they are repairing.
As of August 30, car manufacturers had contributed $25 million to the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, a ballot committee formed to defeat Question 1 on the November ballot, which would update the state’s existing “Right to Repair” law to explicitly cover telematics, which are systems that transmit information wirelessly.
The Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee, which supports the question, has raised $9.2 million.
Based on fundraising reports, the Massachusetts ballot question is poised to be a referendum between two powerful national constituencies: car repair and auto part shops and car manufacturers.
The Coalition for Safe and Secure Data is funded by major national car manufacturers. General Motors donated $5.1 million; Toyota and Ford each gave around $4.2 million; Honda gave $2.8 million; Nissan gave $2.4 million; Fiat Chrysler Automotive, which also includes brands like Dodge and Jeep, gave $1.9 million; and Kia gave $1.1 million. Subaru, Chrysler, Hyundai, BMW, Daimler Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen also contributed several hundred thousand dollars apiece. None of the companies are Massachusetts-based.
On the other side of the issue, the Right to Repair Committee is funded mainly by auto repair-related trade groups. The Auto Care Association, a trade association that represents independent car repair shops and related businesses, has donated more than $2 million. The Coalition of Auto Repair Equality, a national nonprofit representing businesses like repair shops and parts distributors that deal in cars after they are sold by the manufacturer, donated another $2.6 million. Both groups are Maryland-based.
AutoZone and O’Reilly Automotive, auto parts chain stores headquartered in Tennessee and Missouri, respectively, each gave $1 million. (An earlier version of the campaign finance report excluded these donations, even though the companies were listed as top donors on the committee’s TV ads. After a reporter questioned that, an updated version was posted. A committee spokeswoman blamed an error in transmitting the latest report.) Automotive Warehouse in Maryland gave $500,000.
The existing right to repair law requires auto manufacturers to give independent repair shops access to the same diagnostic and repair information they give their own dealers through a port in the car that repair shops can plug into. The law excludes most telematics, which is defined as any information transmitted wirelessly to a remote server, and covers things like remote diagnostic information, crash notifications, stolen vehicle locations or navigation. Telematics was not widely used when the right to repair law was instituted in 2013, but it is becoming prevalent in newer cars manufactured today.
The ballot question would require car manufacturers to equip cars with an “open data” platform so car owners and independent repair shops could retrieve mechanical data taken from telematic systems and run diagnostics through a mobile app.
Supporters of the ballot question – primarily repair shops – say independent repair shops need telematic information to diagnose and repair newer cars. They say consumers should own their car’s data and decide who can access it.
Opponents – primarily car manufacturers – say repair shops are already entitled to the diagnostic information they need to fix cars. They say giving repair shops access to additional telematic information would imperil consumer privacy by giving repair shops access to real-time driver information and opening the door to cybersecurity threats.
The Right to Repair Committee has spent $6 million on consulting, $286,000 on payroll, and $188,000 on advertising. (The expenses listed as consulting include some advertising-related expenses.) That group also had the expense of gathering signatures to get onto the ballot.
The other question on the November ballot, Question 2, to establish ranked choice voting, is shaping up to be a much less costly battle.
Supporters of ranked choice voting have raised close to $4 million so far and spent $2.3 million. The committee received nearly 1,800 donations, many from individual small donors. The Action Now Initiative, a Texas-based political advocacy group created by liberal donors John and Laura Arnold, contributed $2.3 million. The Denver-based Unite America, a government reform group, gave $445,000.
The landlord advocacy group MassLandlords has also spent $730 supporting ranked choice voting. Doug Quattrochi, executive director of MassLandlords, said the group uses ranked choice voting internally. He said MassLandlords dislikes the current form of government, where incumbents often win narrowly and remain in the Legislature for years, and wants reforms that encourage more coalition-building.A committee to oppose ranked choice voting was just formed with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance on August 31, led by Cheryl Longtin of Westford. Longtin did not return calls.
Spending by MassLandlords has been corrected.