State Watch

Seattle takes aim at Amazon over political spending

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The Seattle City Council is scheduled to vote Monday on new campaign finance restrictions that would prevent companies like Amazon from spending money on city elections.

The move comes just months after the tech giant, which is headquartered in Seattle, spent millions trying to oust incumbents who wanted to increase its taxes.
A City Council committee voted Wednesday to advance a bill that would prohibit corporations from contributing to candidates or political action committees spending on local elections if foreign investors own a substantial stake in those companies.
The legislation passed on a 6-0 vote, making it all but certain that the measure would pass through the full nine-member council. 
“What we are doing here is addressing corruption and the appearance and perception of corruption in our elections, and that is a worthy challenge to take up as a City Council,” said Lorena Gonzalez (D), the City Council president and the bill’s lead author.
The bill is a direct response to the 2019 elections, in which Amazon and several other large corporations dumped more than $4 million into independent expenditure groups led by the local Chamber of Commerce, an unheard of sum in usually low-budget city elections. Amazon alone was responsible for $1.5 million in spending.
Those businesses targeted incumbents and liberal candidates who had supported a so-called head tax on the city’s largest employers. The tax would have fallen on the 585 businesses in the city that generated more than $20 million in revenue, requiring them to pay $275 per employee. That money would have been earmarked for affordable housing and homelessness services.
After the City Council passed the head tax in 2018, Amazon openly suggested it would slow its rapid growth in its hometown. The council reversed course just a month later after angry town hall meetings and after Amazon, Starbucks and other large corporations began raising money for a ballot measure to overturn the tax.
The massive spending the following year brought national media attention and condemnations from Democratic presidential candidates like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The company succeeded in making the last several weeks of the campaign about itself — and all of its candidates lost.
The winning candidates formed a special Select Committee on Campaign Finance Reform to address the huge spending, and by proxy Amazon’s growing political power.
Amazon spokespeople did not return requests for comment on Thursday.
Some council members warned the legislation would not fully curb a corporation’s political influence. The bill only limits contributions a corporation makes, not direct spending a corporation does on its own.
“This legislation is about addressing quid pro quo corruption and the threat of it. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that it’s going to quote get big money out of politics,” said Lisa Herbold, one of the council members who voted in favor of the bill.
The ban on corporate contributions would almost certainly draw legal scrutiny, as several of the city’s previous attempts to get money out of politics have ended up in court. A spokeswoman for the City Council said council members anticipated a future lawsuit.
Tags Bernie Sanders Elizabeth Warren Homelessness Political contributions Seattle taxes
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