Meet the Reclusive Software Billionaire Attacking Elon Musk

“Trillion-Greenback Ponzi Plan.”

“Deep Flaws.”

“Unsafe.”

The tv advertisements for Dan O’Dowd, a software billionaire working as a Democrat for Senate in California, are not your standard campaign places. To an remarkable degree, they are all aimed at one topic: Tesla’s automated driving application. Not at his putative opponent, Senator Alex Padilla, the incumbent Democrat.

O’Dowd’s marketing campaign slogan is “Making Desktops Harmless for Humanity.” Tesla’s computer systems, he promises, are not.

“The problem of the last five or 10 many years has been that we’ve been taking anything that our life depend on and placing computer systems in charge of it,” O’Dowd claimed in an interview. “So now our power grid, our vehicles, or our dams, or bridges, hospitals — every little thing has been set in personal computers that have been place in demand of everything.”

He included: “And a whole lot of the application that was utilised to do that is extremely lousy high quality.”

O’Dowd’s original target, he mentioned, is on Tesla’s full self-driving application, which he says really should have never ever been allowed on the highway.

“The computer software that drives cars and trucks that are heading to have thousands and thousands of people dependent on it should really be our greatest program, the most carefully made and examined computer software,” he claimed. “Instead we’re using pretty much the worst application.”

O’Dowd also ran a paid out advert in a print edition of The New York Situations, headlined “Don’t Be a Tesla Crash-Test Dummy.” The advertisement encourages The Dawn Task, O’Dowd’s web page highlighting his skills as a software engineer for assignments like the Boeing 787 and the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet.

Some of O’Dowd’s critics have questioned the motives at the rear of his anti-Tesla marketing campaign. Motor vehicle firms use his company’s software program in several components and techniques, including automated driving techniques.

For Democrats, Elon Musk, Tesla’s founder, makes for an inviting political quarry.

In recent weeks, Musk has shared his unsolicited views on politics, free speech, “cancel tradition,” his “hardcore litigation department” and something else that would seem to cross his head on Twitter. He has bashed the Democratic Occasion as the bash of “division and hate” and claimed that he will now “vote Republican.”

Musk’s engagement in community discussion has price tag him dearly. The cost of Tesla shares has dropped by virtually $400 because the news very first emerged in early April that he experienced taken a stake in Twitter, which he has considering the fact that agreed to acquire.

Tesla did not react to a ask for for remark for this report. On its web-site, the business claims that its whole self-driving method requires “active driver supervision” and does not “make the auto autonomous.”

But Musk has at instances implied or else. “I’m extremely confident the car will generate itself for the trustworthiness in excess of a human this yr,” he claimed in January 2021. “This is a incredibly huge deal.”

When I requested O’Dowd why he had taken the unorthodox route of jogging for business, relatively than beginning a nonprofit and basically increasing the difficulty in the general public arena, he said he experienced taken that technique by now.

“I’ve experimented with nearly everything,” he claimed. “I’ve experimented with heading to the federal government, to the regulators, to the politicians, to the firms by themselves.”

“I’ve been providing speeches for seven yrs, feeling fairly lonely,” he explained. But now that his crusade from Tesla has gotten comprehensive coverage, he included, “I’ve not been sensation so lonely.”

If the point out of California or some other authorized authority decrees that Tesla’s self-driving software program is not completely ready for community use, he’ll “shut up,” he mentioned.

But for now, O’Dowd is keen to shell out “whatever it takes” to achieve his aim of getting it off the sector, he reported. “A whole raft of extra commercials” are in the performs.

“I really do not have a funds,” he claimed matter-of-factly.

O’Dowd is completely self-funding his marketing campaign. He has currently put in almost $3.5 million on advertisements, far much more than any other candidate in the race. His marketing campaign manager is Jon Blair, a veteran Democratic strategist who previously assisted elect Gina Raimondo, the former governor of Rhode Island.

He’s also hired Mark Putnam, a Democratic ad-maker whose firm has come to be effectively-identified for earning gauzy biographical movies for candidates, like spots for Amy McGrath and M.J. Hegar that helped launch them into the nationwide spotlight.

Putnam’s advertisements for O’Dowd feature quite a few of the attributes that have manufactured him a single of the most sought-just after inventive minds in his field: psychological urgency, to start with-human being testimonials and persuasive footage. For a nontraditional marketing campaign matter, they’re reasonably arresting.

Putnam’s most new advertisement, the one that accuses Musk of managing a “Ponzi plan,” is nearly two minutes extensive — an remarkable indulgence for most strategies.

But O’Dowd’s procedure is not like most campaigns. He doesn’t use an formal pollster, however he has commissioned polls. He is not holding campaign rallies or going for walks rope strains, even though he has held meetings with smaller groups of voters, fascination teams and elected officials to air his considerations.

O’Dowd gains from federal polices that demand broadcasters to provide steep discount rates to experienced candidates for community office. Experienced he established up a tremendous PAC or some other car to underwrite his adverts, broadcasters would have had additional leeway to refuse them, or to charge significant charges.

But there is almost nothing untoward about what he is executing, experts on campaign law explained.

“It’s not legally novel to run a single-challenge campaign, even when that issue is hyper-concentrated,” mentioned Adav Noti, vice president and authorized director of the Marketing campaign Lawful Heart. “The legislation is rather agnostic as to what candidates pick out to target on.”

The principal is coming up on June 7. Because of California’s special election legislation, under which the top rated two finishers advance to the general election, O’Dowd could be in a head-to-head matchup with Padilla in the tumble.

O’Dowd does not say so explicitly, but he is not making an attempt to get, precisely.

“I’m likely to restrict myself to these challenges pretty diligently,” he stated. “And I’m going to convey to individuals, you must vote for me if you assume this is the most significant difficulty.”

O’Dowd insisted that his business, Inexperienced Hills Program, is not a competitor to Tesla.

“We really don’t make self-driving automobiles,” he claimed, introducing that some motor vehicle corporations have been applying its software package in selected lower-level components. “That’s not our small business.”

Inexperienced Hills promotes its knowledge in generating specialized computer software employed in automatic driving techniques. Its site claims that its code is made use of in “hundreds of millions of autos.”

The New York Periods has noted extensively on the shortcomings of Musk’s thrust for fully autonomous cars, together with in a new documentary movie.

In February, Tesla recalled 54,000 of its automobiles to disable a feature of its software program that allowed the motor vehicles to make rolling stops in some circumstances. There are overall websites devoted to documenting fatalities involving Teslas, including all those where driver-help features were proved to have been involved.

When we spoke in late April, O’Dowd explained he had not spoken to Musk about his worries — while not for deficiency of hoping. “I’ve built a few or four endeavors to do so by means of mutual pals,” O’Dowd claimed. “Trust me, he understands who I am. He appreciates what I do. And he’s not interested.”


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