Dan O’Dowd, the billionaire founder and CEO of Green Hills Software, has announced he’s running for the U.S. Senate and his campaign has a single platform — destroy Tesla Inc.
“Today I launched my campaign for U.S. Senate to make computers safe for humanity. The first danger I am tackling is @ElonMusk‘s reckless deployment of unsafe @Tesla Full Self-Driving cars on our roads,” O’Dowd tweeted on April 19th.
The tweet was accompanied by a 60-second advertisement that showed clips of various Tesla vehicles equipped with the contentious software nearly striking pedestrians and making other mistakes in traffic while a disembodied voice explains does its utmost to make you feel like Tesla is an evil company that wants its cars to kill people.
While the company’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) suite has often been the source of ridicule here, this is pretty ridiculous. Though I suppose that can be said of most campaign ads. O’Dowd is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the founder of a political action committee campaigning to ban unsafe software from safety-critical systems, which it claims could be targeted by military-style hackers to cause chaos. Known as The Dawn Project, Tesla has become its Public Enemy Number One.
However, I would argue this has less to do with problems with FSD and more to do with how often the EV manufacturer has been able to dunk on legacy automakers. Let’s not kid ourselves, the automotive industry has a long and illustrious history of engaging in union corruption, dumping garbage parts into cars to save money, skirting regulators, and lobbying Congress to back them up. In the modern era, the latter component seems to be best represented by the aggressive way in which government regulators have handled Tesla Inc’s semi-autonomous features while giving legacy automakers carte blanche. Some of this, like chiding the company for using erroneous names for those features, feels valid. But the rest of it looks to be little more than a backdoor way of hampering the competition via the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA).
Elon Musk’s decision to buy out Twitter in order to convert it into a free-speech platform has also placed him on the radar of political groups that would rather see content censored and/or curated. Following the CEO’s purchasing a majority stake in the social media entity, he refused a seat on the board that would have prohibited him from purchasing additional shares. However, he was met with opposition as the website’s other majority shareholders — Vanguard, Morgan Stanley, BlackRock, and State Street — have threatened to increase their collective ownership. This was something the Tesla CEO claimed as problematic, saying that Twitter’s individual board members technically have a very minor stake in the company’s financial wellbeing.
Last week, Musk offered to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share, or more than $43 billion, around a 16-percent premium on the company’s share price at the time. Since then, there have been rolling criticisms of what is now a hostile takeover and it’s all coming down along political lines. Already unpopular with the Biden administration, at least based on how it has treated Tesla vs legacy manufacturers, Musk has become a pariah among establishment Democrats after souring on California and voicing his opinions on Twitter.
“Elon Musk is pushing Tesla’s defective Full Self-Driving technology, and it’s threatening people across the country. The government continues to allow Tesla to put unregulated, dangerous, and defective software on the street in the hands of 60,000 untrained drivers,” O’Dowd, who is running as a Democrat, said during his campaign launch. “This is a public safety threat and Congress must take immediate action.”
According to the Sacramento Bee, O’Dowd will be challenging incumbent Sen. Alex Padilla — California’s former secretary of state who was tasked by Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill Vice President Kamala Harris’ seat when headed to the White House.
Padilla is favored to win heavily. But an intra-party rival in a flush billionaire could cost Padilla some needed votes in a crowded field of candidates.
Padilla will appear on the ballot twice this year: The first time is for a special election to finish this term. The second is for another six-year term starting in 2023. He has about $7.1 million on hand for his campaign, according to his most recent Federal Election Commission filing on March 31, 2022. O’Dowd founded Green Hills Software with Carl Rosenberg in 1982 and has served as its president and CEO since.
Through Green Hills Software, O’Dowd has helped build operating systems for the likes of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Boeing, his campaign said. He founded The Dawn Project in 2021 to push for reliability and security in safety-critical computer systems. Its goal is to replace software in critical infrastructure to ensure it can neither fail nor be hacked.
It seems like a worthy cause on the surface. But, again, the group seems to exist almost entirely to cause trouble for Tesla. The Dawn Project repeatedly makes assertions that Musk’s company uses systems that could be leveraged by hackers to cause trouble for the United States. Though that line of reasoning is never extended to other manufacturers that are utilizing similar systems or the rampant harvesting of customer data that only gets worse every year.
Listen, I dislike the farce that is Tesla’s FSD as much as the next guy. However, it seems implausible that one automaker has the market cornered on vulnerabilities when we’ve already seen what hackers can do with other models. Every manufacturer needs to be held to a similarly high standard if I’m to believe O’Dowd’s goals are based on legitimate concerns for the wellbeing of the nation, rather than industrial or political warfare.
[Image: Virrage Images/Shutterstock]
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