Bernie Sanders has joined fellow Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren in decrying Amazon’s heavy spending on Seattle’s pivotal City Council elections.
The commerce and technology behemoth had previously contributed $400,000 to the PAC associated with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, so the company has donated nearly $1.5 million to the PAC this year in an attempt to shape politics in its hometown.
All seven of the council’s district-based seats are up for grabs this year. Businesses and other contributors can give no more than $500 to candidate campaigns but can give unlimited amounts to PACs that spend independently from the candidates.
“In a city struggling with homelessness, Amazon is dropping an outrageous amount of money to defeat progressive candidates fighting for working people,” Sanders wrote on Twitter Monday, pointing to a report by The Nation magazine that concentrated on the pro-business group’s desire to unseat socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant, the District 3 incumbent.
“The way Amazon conducts itself in its hometown is a perfect example of the out-of-control corporate greed we are going to end,” the Vermont senator added.
In response to a request for comment about Sanders’ comments, Amazon spokesman Aaron Toso issued a statement: “We are engaging in this election because we want Seattle to have a city government that works. Seattle deserves a council that delivers results for all of its residents on issues that matter, like homelessness, transportation, climate change and public safety.”
Seattle business leaders have argued that the current council hasn’t spent taxpayer money wisely in addressing homelessness and has adopted too many new regulations. They’ve noted that labor unions and progressive donors are also spending large amounts on this year’s elections.
For instance, a PAC backed by service workers unions and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer has raised nearly $500,000 to bolster the candidates the Chamber opposes, and hotel worker union Unite Here has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help District 7 candidate Andrew Lewis.
Supporters of the more progressive candidates say Amazon and the Chamber are trying to ensure that the next council doesn’t raise taxes on Seattle’s large, successful corporations.
Sanders has criticized Amazon previously, arguing that the company should pay more in taxes and raise worker pay, and even introduced a bill called the Stop BEZOS Act, though the longtime Democratic Socialist did celebrate Amazon’s move to a $15-per-hour minimum wage last year.
Warren also has repeatedly slammed Amazon, vowing to break up the Seattle-based company and other large tech companies, and she spoke out about the council elections Saturday.
“Surprise: Amazon is trying to tilt the Seattle City Council elections in their favor. I’m with the Seattle council members and activists who continue standing up to Amazon,” the Massachusetts senator tweeted.
U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who represents most of Seattle, had tweeted about the situation.
“I am extremely disturbed by the unprecedented amount of money that Amazon has dumped into Seattle City Council elections,” she wrote Saturday, citing a story by The Seattle Times. “Not just a thumb, but a fistful of cash, on the scales of democracy.”
Amazon’s corporate involvement in Seattle politics has surged since 2017, when the company backed Mayor Jenny Durkan’s election, and 2018, when it clashed with council members over a short-lived per-employee tax on high-grossing businesses to help combat homelessness.
The company and its top executives spent less than $31,000 in 2013 and less than $137,000 in 2015. They spent $1.5 million in 2017 and have spent more than $1.6 million this year.
Eleven members of Amazon’s so-called “S Team” — a group of senior leaders who report directly to CEO Jeff Bezos — have written checks to pro-business Seattle council candidates and a political-action committee supporting those candidates, the Times reported Sunday.
A chart showing Amazon donations to local elections in recent years has been removed from this story because it contained inaccurate contribution totals from the 2017 elections.