Will Bezos’ Washington Post be a mouthpiece?

Amazon's ranking among the country's highest spending lobby groups could create ethical conflicts

Topics: Bloomberg, amazon, Lobbying, ethics, Government, campaign contribution, , , ,

Will Bezos' Washington Post be a mouthpiece?

Aug. 6 (Bloomberg) — Amazon.com Inc., whose founder Jeff Bezos is purchasing the Washington Post, ranks among the biggest spenders among high-technology companies seeking to influence the work of the federal government.

Former U.S. Senators Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, and John Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat, are among those working for Seattle-based Amazon, which spent $1.7 million on lobbying from January through June, ninth highest among high-tech companies, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks lobbying.

The company weighed in on issues with Congress, the Department of Commerce and the Federal Trade Commission on matters such as Internet sales taxes and privacy, patent laws, cybersecurity and online wine sales, Senate filings show.

“They have a huge number of issues before the federal government and now he’s bought the hometown paper for covering those politicians,” said Bill Allison, editorial director for the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based watchdog group. “There’s always a concern you’re going to have a conflict when you have wealthy publisher. Given all of Amazon’s issues, it’s hard to see where Bezos won’t have a conflict.”

‘Competing Loyalties’

Ethics expert Bob Steele agrees.

“There are certainly competing loyalties,” said Steele, director of the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. “If he handles it very well, it’s possible to manage those competing loyalties, but it’s also possible for competing loyalties to turn into conflicts of interest that could erode the integrity of his journalistic obligations.”

Like other high-tech companies, Amazon has increased its lobbying spending. The company’s 2013 totals for the first six months of the year are 31 percent higher than the $1.3 million spent during the same period a year earlier. In 2000, when the company first reported it was lobbying the federal government, it spent $246,000 during the first six months.

Amazon’s team of lobbyists also includes former Assistant Treasury Secretary Jonathan Talisman, who served in the Clinton administration; Elizabeth Frazee, former aide to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican; and Holly Fechner, former counsel to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Bezos, CEO of Amazon, is purchasing the Post on his own, paying $250 million to the Washington Post Co., which has been held by the family of Post CEO Donald Graham since 1933.

Issues Involved

Amazon, the largest Internet-based retailer, is supporting legislation that would allow states to require companies selling products online to collect sales taxes. Current law requires such taxes to be collected only when the Internet company has a physical presence in the state.

As it builds more facilities to speed delivery and therefore becomes subject to more state tax collections under current law, Amazon has aligned itself with brick-and-mortar giants such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., opposing other online marketplaces such as Ebay Inc.

The Post published an editorial on April 23 supporting a Senate measure allowing states to collect sales taxes from out- of-state vendors. “This will level the playing field for stores that have a physical presence, which are already charging tax on all local purchases,” the editoral board wrote.

You Might Also Like

Digital Matters

The company is also a member of the Internet Association trade group that has urged the White House to exempt Internet services from new cybersecurity rules. The group acted after President Barack Obama in February called for new computer security standards in areas such as telecommunications, pipelines and power grids.

Amazon also is part of a Digital Due Process coalition seeking changes to privacy laws to make it harder for the government to gain access to e-mails and digital documents. In addition to companies such as Google Inc. and AT&T Inc., the coalition includes the American Civil Liberties Union. It’s seeking to require the government to obtain a search warrant to get online documents.

In July, the company sued the federal government after the U.S. Government Accountability Office recommended that the bidding process for cloud-computing services be reopened after Amazon initially had won a $600 million contract.

Political Contributions

Amazon’s political action committee contributed $55,000 from January through June, more than double the $23,500 in donations it made during the same period two years earlier, Federal Election Commission reports show.

Bezos’ only personal campaign contribution from 2009 to 2013 was the maximum $4,800 to Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state, where he lives and his company is located. He also gave $5,000 a year to Amazon’s PAC.

Bezos must consider the reputation of the Post going forward as he acquires a newspaper at the heart of reporting on and editorializing about Washington’s issues. Kelly McBride, an ethics expert at the Poynter Institute, a St. Petersburg, Florida-based journalism training organization, says Bezos would undercut the value of his purchase if he used the Post to advocate for his business interests.

“He will have to create — and I have no doubt that he will — a standard of independence and transparency in his newsroom,” McBride said. “It doesn’t make any business sense for it to become a mouthpiece. It makes business sense to do the right thing.”

–Editors: Mark Silva, Jeanne Cummings

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at jsalant@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 8
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Sonic's Bacon Double Cheddar Croissant Dog

    Sonic calls this a "gourmet twist" on a classic. I am not so, so fancy, but I know that sprinkling bacon and cheddar cheese onto a tube of pork is not gourmet, even if you have made a bun out of something that is theoretically French.

    Krispy Kreme

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Krispy Kreme's Doughnut Dog

    This stupid thing is a hotdog in a glazed doughnut bun, topped with bacon and raspberry jelly. It is only available at Delaware's Frawley Stadium, thank god.


    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    KFC's Double Down Dog

    This creation is notable for its fried chicken bun and ability to hastily kill your dreams.

    Pizza Hut

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Pizza Hut's Hot Dog Bites Pizza

    Pizza Hut basically just glued pigs-in-blankets to the crust of its normal pizza. This actually sounds good, and I blame America for brainwashing me into feeling that.

    Carl's Jr.

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Carl's Jr. Most American Thick Burger

    This is a burger stuffed with potato chips and hot dogs. Choose a meat, America! How hard is it to just choose a meat?!

    Tokyo Dog

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Tokyo Dog's Juuni Ban

    A food truck in Seattle called Tokyo Dog created this thing, which is notable for its distinction as the Guinness Book of World Records' most expensive hot dog at $169. It is a smoked cheese bratwurst, covered in butter Teriyaki grilled onions, Maitake mushrooms, Wagyu beef, foie gras, black truffles, caviar and Japanese mayo in a brioche bun. Just calm down, Tokyo Dog. Calm down.


    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Limp Bizkit's "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water"

    This album art should be illegal.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...