Amazon Could Boost Washington Influence With Addition of Hub

November 13, 2018 Megan R. Wilson
  • Trump-connected firm among representatives in Washington
  • Company plans to expand into National Landing in Arlington

Placing one of its new headquarters in northern Virginia would expand an already significant inside-the-Beltway presence for Amazon.com Inc., which has more than a dozen federal lobbying firms working on its behalf and whose chief executive, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.

The online retailer’s decision to expand into New York and Arlington, Va., is part of a larger initiative to extend its reach further into grocery, drones, entertainment and defense contracting services.

“Both for the economic reasons and networking reasons, it’s a very strong influence-peddling strategy,” said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at the watchdog group Public Citizen. “That’s why they’re here. I don’t think they would be here for any other reason.”

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“By locating one of their headquarters in this vicinity, they become a major player [and] a major contributor to the economy here. That becomes a valuable tool for peddling influence,” he said. “Instead of having to fly out from Seattle, they’re here, and they’re networking with everybody.”

Amazon has boosted its advocacy spending 400 percent over the last five years, according to a Bloomberg News analysis, and lobbied more agencies than any other tech company, according to the analysis of disclosures.

Ballard Partners, which has connections to President Donald Trump, bi-coastal public affairs firm Monument Policy Group, law and lobby firm McGuireWoods Consulting and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld are among the 13 lobbying firms working for Amazon in Washington.

Among its lobbyists is Seth Bloom, a former counsel to the Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee who also worked in the Justice Department’s antitrust division. Bloom, who worked for Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) was first retained by Amazon two years ago.

Bezos also began donating to political campaigns during the contentious 2018 mid-terms and gave across party lines. He cut a $10 million check in September to a “cross-partisan” super PAC called With Honor, which supported dozens of military veterans running for Congress in both parties.

Lobbying Successes

Last year, Amazon convinced regulators that its purchase of Whole Foods would be a positive development in the grocery marketplace. It also recently came a step closer to winning a proposed “winner-take-all” cloud computing contract with the Pentagon, prompting ire from competitors such as Oracleand IBM that say that a single-source for the services could be a risk to security.

The $10 billion Pentagon cloud contract, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud or JEDI project is widely seen to favor Amazon because it’s the dominant cloud services provider and it has already won a major cloud contract from the Central Intelligence Agency.

In addition, the company has argued against attempts by Congress to enact an online sales tax, pushed for immigration overhaul, advocated for postal changes and infrastructure investments, and on issues including “data protection, encryption, data retention, data breach notification, data security, facial recognition technology,” according to recent disclosures.

The company also is tinkering with its own drone development in order to get packages to consumers faster, and lobbying the Federal Aviation Administration as it does it.

Regulatory Setback

Amazon and other tech giants fiercely opposed the Federal Communications Commission’s December 2017 vote to repeal Obama-era net neutrality rules.

Rescinding the 2015 regulations would open the door for internet service providers like AT&T Inc. to slow, block and prioritize consumers’ access to web content, harming tech innovation, Amazon argued in an FCC filing.

“In order to deliver new products and services to consumers, companies need to know with a reasonable degree of certainty that a new product or service will be able to be deployed without undue interference by broadband service providers,” Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, wrote in the July 2017 filing.

In Congress

Congressional Democrats have stressed that antitrust enforcement is an important part of their “A Better Deal” agenda, which includes initiatives intended to boost enforcement against dominant firms.

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) cosponsored a package of bills in 2017 intended to curtail market concentration and give antitrust enforcers a stronger hand in weighing mergers. One of the bills (S. 1811) would increase fees companies must pay for antitrust review of large deals. Another (S. 1812) would reduce the standard of impact antitrust enforcers have to show to block a merger.

Sens. Mark Warnerand Tim Kaine (D-Va.) have come out against proposals to break up big tech. Warner told the Verge in November that reining in U.S. tech giants could inhibit their ability to compete effectively against global innovators such as Chinese based platforms Alibaba Group and Baidu Inc.

See also: Lawmakers Seek Review of Cloud Bidding Rules

With assistance from Eleanor Tyler and Victoria Graham

To contact the reporter on this story: Megan R. Wilson in Washington at mwilson@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

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