Emboldened by election day victory, new Seattle City Council launches next challenge to Amazon

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Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant declares victory in the November 2019 election. (Photo via KshamaSawant.Org)

Just two weeks into 2020, the new Seattle City Council is already making good on its promise to take on Amazon, following an election battle between the tech giant and candidates in its hometown that drew national attention.

Elected officials in Seattle are planning both legislative and symbolic actions Monday that show reining in Amazon is a top priority for them. The moves foreshadow what’s likely to be a year of clashes between the increasingly progressive Seattle City Council and the tech company whose urban workforce has grown to more than 50,000 employees over the last decade, reshaping the city and becoming a political lightning rod.

On Monday, the Seattle City Council plans to vote on an ordinance that would likely bar Amazon and other corporations from spending money on local races. The legislation comes on the heels of a record $1.45 million Amazon spent in an effort to unseat a Seattle City Council the company characterized as hostile to business. Update, Jan. 13: The council voted 7-0 on Monday to pass the bill.

A few hours after the Monday vote, Amazon’s top antagonist in Seattle government, council member Kshama Sawant, will host an event titled “Tax Amazon 2020 Kickoff.”

Related: Seattle’s socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant wants to make an example out of Amazon

In both cases, Seattle’s government officials are not shy about squaring off with Amazon. They’re part of a broader movement on the left that is in the habit of targeting Big Tech in general and Amazon in particular.

Local and national politicians rallied around that position in the fall, following Amazon’s big election contributions. The tech giant’s donations went to the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee, which backed seven candidates perceived as more business-friendly than their left-leaning opponents.

The major spending, just a few weeks before election day, attracted attention from national progressive icons like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Both publicly criticized Amazon’s donations and Sanders went so far as to endorse candidates running against those backed by the Seattle Chamber.

The effort to remake Seattle’s leadership was largely seen as a failure and resulted in a City Council that is even more progressive than the previous one.

In response to Amazon’s spending, council member Lorena González jump-started legislation that would put limits on corporate political spending. The piece the council plans to vote on Monday would ban “foreign-influenced corporations” from spending money on Seattle elections in most circumstances.

The legislation defines foreign influence narrowly, as companies with a foreign owner holding or controlling 1 percent or more of voting shares. Companies with two or more foreign shareholders controlling five percent or more of total equity also qualify.

Amazon and many other large corporations would almost certainly meet those thresholds. The tech giant declined to comment on the legislation.

Seattle City Council Kshama Sawant in her office at City Hall. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Sawant is also capitalizing on the momentum from her victory and Amazon’s defeat in November. She will use her swearing-in ceremony Monday as an opportunity to re-launch her campaign to raise taxes on Amazon.

“We just made history in beating Amazon and the Chamber of Commerce by winning my re-election to City Council as a member of Socialist Alternative,” the event page says. “Seattle’s voters have shown that they overwhelmingly support taxing large corporations to fund housing and vital services. With this historic mandate, it’s our movement’s responsibility to strike while the iron is hot.”

The Seattle City Council’s last attempt to raise taxes on Amazon was a flop. In 2018 the City Council passed a per-employee tax on Seattle’s top-grossing businesses to fund affordable housing and homeless services. Faced with a protracted fight from Amazon and others in the business community, the council repealed the tax a few weeks after passing it.

But the new City Council is emboldened by what some see as a mandate from voters to take on Amazon and renew efforts to tax the city’s largest businesses.

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