I Spy: Tesla Gets Legal OK to View Messages Between Lawmakers & Lobbyists

By: Bridget Clerkin August 30, 2017
Electric carmaker Tesla won a legal victory to unseal communications between lawmakers and the state's dealer lobby.
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In the war over which way cars can be sold, Tesla just won an important battle.

A Michigan judge sided with the Silicon Valley company earlier this week, saying two state lawmakers subpoenaed by Tesla must turn over information requested by the electric carmaker. The ruling simultaneously quashed separate legal appeals made by the officials, in which they sought to hold onto the material. 

It was the latest development in a years-long dispute between Tesla and the State of Michigan, fought over the state’s refusal to let Tesla sell its vehicles directly to consumers there.

And the information the carmaker just won access to may shed new light on the state’s motivations.

Tesla was after communiques between the officials in question and members of the car dealership lobby, a strong political bloc nationwide and especially so in Michigan. The company sought communications leading up to the passage of the so-called “anti-Tesla amendment,” a piece of legislation passed in 2014 which tweaked legal language to seal up a loophole Tesla could potentially use to sell its cars directly to customers.

Specifically, the company subpoenaed State Senator Joe Hune (R-Hamburg), and State Representative Jason Sheppard (R-Temperance), for their supposed connections to the dealership lobby. Both had argued in their appeals that the information was privileged and should be kept private.

Hune, Tesla’s attorney argued, raised eyebrows after introducing the last-minute amendment, and was being scrutinized because his wife works for a law firm whose client list includes the Auto Dealers of Michigan.

Sheppard was not yet in office when the law passed, but is also being eyed by the auto manufacturer’s legal team thanks to comments he made in 2016, supposedly telling a Tesla representative that the company wouldn’t find a home in Michigan since auto dealers didn’t want them in the state.

Neither Hune nor Sheppard has publicly commented on the ruling, and the state has remained mum on whether it will file a further appeal.

But if the decision stands, it could not only reveal information pertinent to Tesla, it could uncover an entire shadowy world of camaraderie between lobbyists and lawmakers in the state of Michigan.

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