It’s hard to know just how rich Amazon founder and chairman Jeff Bezos is. It depends on who’s reporting it. Forbes gives him a real-time net worth of $136.3 billion. A separate 2022 Forbes report lists Bezos’ net worth as $171 billion. Does it matter?
Bezos founded e-commerce giant Amazon in 1994 in his Seattle garage. He and his wife MacKenzie divorced in 2019 after 25 years of marriage and he transferred a quarter of his then-16-percent Amazon stake to her. He now owns just less than 10 percent of the company.
With a slew of antitrust bills working their way through Congress, tech giants have been funding groups that back their agenda as part of the largest, most expensive lobbying battle in the industry’s history.
The Competitiveness Coalition, a group fighting antitrust legislation aimed at the biggest U.S. tech companies, presented itself as a grassroots advocate for U.S. taxpayers. What it failed to disclose is that a significant source of its funding came from Amazon. The coalition received more than $1 million from Amazon, three people familiar with the organization’s funding told Bloomberg. The coalition is led by Scott Brown, a former Republican senator from Massachusetts.
Here are five reasons to believe Jeff Bezos and Amazon are using the Washington Post, Barack Obama, James Carney, And Van Jones in an iInfluence campaign
The third-largest public company by revenue in the world after Walmart and China’s Petrochemical Corporation, Amazon made $386 billion in revenue in 2020 — a 37.6 percent increase over the previous year, due, in part, to the coronavirus pandemic.
Amazon has been criticized by the public and politicians for its treatment of warehouse workers during the coronavirus pandemic, triggering protests and the formation of an Amazon union.
Bezos bought The Washington Post in August 2013 for $250 million — a tiny fraction of his net worth. It was a move that shocked media and tech observers who considered newspapers a dying business.
However, Bezos has attributed his success in business to his focus on the long term and on things that don’t change. Legacy media such as the Washington Post apparently fit the bill.
“Bezos doesn’t worry about what will change. He focuses on what won’t change,” columnist Jeff Haden wrote for Inc. magazine in 2017. “Bezos built Amazon around things he knew would be stable over time, investing heavily in ensuring that Amazon would provide those things — and improve its delivery of those things.”
The Washington Post has traditionally focused on the nation’s capital and not as much on business coverage, the New York Times reported. By 2019, that started to change. The Post had previously said it would nearly double the number of journalists devoted to covering Silicon Valley to 25, including a reporter in Seattle to focus on Amazon.
With major antitrust bills, three years in the making, working their way through Congress in 2022, tech companies are “blanketing the airwaves with ads urging millions to tell their senators to block” the pending legislation, Washington Post reported.
The landmark legislation includes two bills seeking to rein in the business practices of the country’s largest tech companies. The legislation would “prohibit the largest online platforms from tilting the playing field toward their own goods and services,” its proponents say. But the tech companies say it would stifle innovation, give their Chinese rivals an advantage and present a national security threat.
How better for Bezos to control the narrative than to own the main legacy news medium in the nation’s capital and be the messenger?
“If you’re Bezos, you want to buy the Washington Post, ‘drip out’ a smart influence campaign over time” tweeted The Moguldom Nation founder Jamarlin Martin.
A year ago, lawyer, author and CNN political commentator Van Jones was gifted $100 million from Bezos earmarked for charitable causes but with no stipulations. A former advisor to President Barack Obama, Jones famously cried in 2016 when Donald Trump won the White House and again in 2020 when Joe Biden was elected as president. In between, he rubbed elbows with Trump and helped the former president formulate a police reform bill.
Jones co-founded Dream Corps in 2015, which supports reducing the U.S. prison population, and the racial justice organization, Color of Change, in 2005. He is also the founding CEO of Reform Alliance, a nonprofit focused on prison reform that was launched in early 2019 with Meek Mill, Jay-Z, and leaders in sports and business.
“U also want your Black partners to help enforce the dominant order & risk aversion.This stuff is malstructured” The Moguldom Nation founder Martin tweeted.
Another $100 million Bezos gift recipient was Barack Obama’s private foundation. Bezos asked the foundation to name a plaza at the Obama Presidential Center, now under construction, for the civil rights leader John Lewis, who died in 2021.
Jay Carney, a former Obama press secretary who is now Amazon’s top lobbying and communications executive, first raised the possibility of a donation with Bezos, according to the foundation, New York Times reported.
Private foundations could be legal swamp lobbying and influence playgrounds, optimized for the modern regulatory environment. Carney is hardly the first former member of the Obama administration to take his campaign strategies to Silicon Valley.
David Plouffe, a former senior Obama adviser, was widely considered the architect of Obama’s two presidential campaign victories. Plouffe’s White House connections and experience helped lead policy at Uber and Facebook. Plouffe became the senior vice president of policy and strategy for Uber in 2014. In 2017, he joined Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to lead policy and advocacy. Plouffe now serves as a board member of the Barack Obama Foundation.
Philanthropy has long been “a way for the extremely wealthy to burnish their reputations once they have finished their climbs to the top,” Nicholas Kulish wrote for the Times. Amazon has been criticized for its labor practices and settled charges in 2021 from the National Labor Relations Board for illegally retaliating against Chris Smalls and Derrick Palmer, two prominent critics who worked for Amazon. The company is known for being strongly anti-union.
“President Obama is strongly supportive of unions, and appreciates the fact that Jeff is being philanthropic,” said Valerie Jarrett, a former senior Obama adviser who is now CEO of the Obama Foundation.
On April 1, 2022, Amazon warehouse workers in New York City agreed in a historic vote to form a union. Many saw it as a sign that unionization might soon sweep across more warehouses of the e-commerce giant as well as other low-wage employers.
Amazon has been fighting back on the public relations front, relying on the PR skills of Carney, who has been the senior vice president of global corporate affairs at Amazon since 2015. Carney oversees public policy and public relations for all of Amazon’s businesses worldwide.
With his powerful contacts, Carney would be a valuable member of a Bezos influence campaign. In addition to being the White House Press secretary for Obama from 2011 to 2014, he worked for Vice President Joe Biden as director of communications.
On Carney’s watch, Amazon’s PR team is not only pushing back against union organizers but also against Democrats who favor the unionization of U.S. companies. Ironically, while Democrats support the unionization of low-wage workers, union-busting is being run by longtime Democrat establishment supporter Carney.
“Let it be known Democrats are running the union-busting at Amazon. James Carney could be the top union buster in America,” tweeted The Moguldom Nation CEO Jamarlin Martin.
Photos: Van Jones attends the National Summit in Detroit, June 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) / Jeff Bezos attends the Baby2Baby 10-Year Gala, Nov. 13, 2021 in West Hollywood, Calif. (CraSH/imageSPACE/MediaPunch /IPX) / Then-White House Press Secretary Jay Carney briefs reporters, April 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) / President Barack Obama speaks at a news conference in the White House, April 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)