retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Content Guy’s Note: Stories in this section are, in my estimation, important and relevant to business. However, they are relegated to this slot because some MNB readers have made clear that they prefer a politics-free MNB; I can't do that because sometimes the news calls out for coverage and commentary, but at least I can make it easy for folks to skip it if they so desire.


• The Seattle Times has a story about how senior management at Amazon - 11 members of the company's "S Team" who all report directly to founder/CEO Jeff Bezos - decided for the first time to get involved in local politics, writing big checks to a ground of candidates for the Seattle City Council who they view as being friendly to the company's interests.

"The local political spending of Amazon’s top executives, along with a record-setting $1 million contribution to a pro-business political-action committee last week, underscore the company’s desire for a more accommodating council in the city where it occupies nearly 50 buildings and has more than 50,000 employees," the Times writes.

"It’s also another signal of the evolving relationship between Amazon and its hometown."

The Times points out that Amazon and its executives have largely remained disengaged from local politics until recently; a proposed "head tax" on companies based on employee counts got Amazon more involved, as it fought the proposal to the point of threatening to slow down its expansion in Seattle if the tax were enacted.

However, the new focus on local politics has created its own backlash, as some local politicians and activist groups have accused the company of trying to buy influence with campaign donations. Even Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) has gotten into the act; she now is supplementing her calls for big tech companies like Amazon to be broken up with support for “Seattle council members and activists who continue standing up to Amazon. Corporations aren’t people, and I have a plan to get big money out of politics.”
KC's View:
While I think that money in politics can be corrosive to democracy, I'm not sure we're ever going to get it out … and, quite frankly, these Amazon execs are citizens who have a right to their opinions and the right to support sympathetic candidates. I tend to focus more on total transparency when it comes to money in politics - there ought to be no such thing as dark money or groups that can hide who their donors are.

Plus, these folks are local … you want locals to be engaged, and it isn't fair to suggest that just because people have money, they can't be politically active. (The Times also points out, by the way, that with Amazon's greater political engagement has come greater local philanthropy … which I think we can agree is a good thing.)