Amazon's lobbying spending skyrockets

Amazon’s lobbying spending skyrocketed in 2015 as the company expanded its reach into cloud computing, drone development and video streaming.

The Internet giant's primary corporate arm spent around $9 million on lobbying in 2015, a 91 percent increase over the $4.74 million it spent the year before.

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Notably, the company’s spending during the last three months of the year — $2,990,000 — was almost a million dollars higher than in the previous quarter.

According to disclosure forms, the company’s lobbying efforts targeted Congress and numerous federal agencies. Among a litany of topics, Amazon’s representatives advocated on issues related to drones at the Federal Aviation Administration, online video at the Federal Communications Commission, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that is pending in Congress. 

The broad swath of issues covered by the company reflects its growing portfolio.

Amazon is developing drones that could someday deliver packages straight from warehouses to the front doors of customers.

And the company has continued to set its sights beyond the delivery business that made it a household name. Its Amazon Web Services arm provides cloud-computing power to everyone from Yelp to NASA.

Amazon has also moved into the streaming video business dominated by Netflix, partly by providing customers who buy its premium Prime status with access to original shows like award-winners “Transparent” and “Mozart in the Jungle.”

The company’s lobbying posture is growing more aggressive at a time when its founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, has become a power player in the capital with his ownership of The Washington Post. Bezos bought the newspaper in 2013. 

An official for the company declined to comment on the increase in spending.

Amazon was not the only tech company to ramp up its activity in Washington over the last year.

The ride-hailing application Uber has more than doubled the amount of money it spends on lobbying, doling out $200,000 in 2014 and $470,000 in 2015. Uber’s spending on a quarter-by-quarter basis has grown consistently over the last two years as it has attracted more attention from federal policymakers and regulators.

The Federal Trade Commission is currently preparing guidance for companies in the so-called “on-demand economy,” with the agency’s chairwoman recently saying the report could come as soon as this spring. 

Uber and other on-demand economy companies have also faced scrutiny in the last year over the way they use independent contractors, rather than employees, to staff the front-lines of their growing businesses. Those workers don’t get the kinds of benefits and protections available to many full-time employees.  

That has led some, most notably Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerDem senator urges SEC to investigate Yahoo Lawmakers play catch-up as smartphone banking surges 5 questions about the Yahoo hack MORE (D-Va.), to float legislative and regulatory proposals aimed at building a safety net for workers in the on-demand economy.

Elsewhere in the tech world, Twitter’s lobbying expenditures grew 61 percent, from $310,000 in 2014 to $500,000 in 2015. The company has recently looked to expand its user base and remains one of the most active corporate advocates on freedom of speech issues. The company hired its first outside lobbyists last year. 

Most tech firms held steady with their lobbying spending last year. 

Google, a powerhouse in Washington, saw its spending fall slightly from $16.8 million in 2014 to $16.6 million in 2015, while Facebook’s spending rose from $9.34 million in 2014 to $9.85 million last year.

Apple spent $4.48 million last year, an increase from $4.1 million the year before. Microsoft’s spending was up 2 percent, from $8.3 million in 2014 to $8.49 million in 2015.

Large consumer tech companies were involved in several major political fights this year, including the battle over the FCC’s net neutrality rules and surveillance reform in Congress, but many policy initiatives have stalled as lawmakers turn their attention to the coming presidential and congressional campaigns.