Bernie Sanders slams Amazon over hometown political spending as Seattle elections become a national issue

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (Facebook Photo / Bernie Sanders)

Sen. Bernie Sanders became the latest federal lawmaker to zero in on local Seattle elections Monday morning, slamming Amazon’s hometown political contributions as “out-of-control corporate greed.”

Over the weekend, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal also called Amazon out for spending $1.45 million on an effort to unseat the Seattle City Council, whose current leadership is often at odds with the tech giant.

“We are engaging in this election because we want Seattle to have a city government that works,” said Amazon spokesperson Aaron Toso in response to the criticism over the weekend. “Seattle deserves a council that delivers results for all of its residents on issues that matter, like homelessness, transportation, climate change and public safety.”

Previously: Seattle progressives fired up over Amazon’s $1.45M spending on local elections

Amazon was already a frequent target of Democrats running for president in 2020, like Warren and Sanders, but the company’s latest move has elevated an upcoming election that would not ordinarily be a talking point in national politics. The criticism shows how in a few years Big Tech in general — and Amazon in particular — have become political punching bags on the national stage.

Last week, Amazon announced a $1 million donation to the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, the political action committee of the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce. Amazon has given CASE a total of $1.45 million this election cycle, as the political action committee works to get business-friendly candidates elected to the Seattle City Council next month.

The stakes are high on Nov. 5. Seven of the nine seats are up for grabs and Amazon, frustrated with current leadership, is willing to spend big money to ensure a changing of the guard. The current Seattle City Council regularly enacts the types of progressive policies that candidates like Warren and Sanders would like to see adopted at the national level.

Seattle was one of the first cities in the nation to adopt a $15 minimum wage, a minimum hourly rate Amazon adopted for its employees last year. The City Council passed a landmark law allowing gig economy workers to unionize, though that legislation is still jammed up in lawsuits. Perhaps most ambitiously, Seattle attempted to pass a tax on the wealthiest corporations in the city to fund affordable housing and homeless services.

That last bit of legislation, known as the “head tax,” is what soured Amazon on the leadership in its hometown. The company decried the plan as a “tax on jobs” and paused construction on a skyscraper in Seattle, threatening to slow down growth if the legislation went through. Ultimately, the City Council passed and then repealed the law before it took effect.

Supporters of the head tax rush the City Council chambers during a vote to repeal the controversial legislation. Behind the banner, Councilmember Kshama Sawant calls for order. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

It was the head tax that first elevated Amazon’s behavior in local politics to the national stage. It’s still being discussed more than a year after it was put to rest. Sanders alluded to the fight last week when he unveiled his campaign proposal to reshape corporate America. The proposal says big firms “create laws that benefit them, as we’ve seen with companies like Amazon [that] fight to pay no taxes in the communities where they operate, while at the same time paying nothing in federal taxes.”

Renewed scrutiny of Amazon’s civic behavior in Seattle shows that the head tax was not an isolated incident. With several antitrust inquiries looming and the ire of presidential hopefuls, Amazon will probably remain a target for the foreseeable future.

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