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Amazon’s influence machine flooding Washington with money and muscle

As Amazon looks to build a bigger book of business in Washington, one major irritant has arisen: President Donald Trump.

Bloomberg|
Mar 08, 2019, 09.54 AM IST
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WASHINGTON DC: After building out a powerful influence machine in Washington over the last few years, Amazon is going on the attack.

The company is pushing aside trade groups it doesn’t like and creating new ones it does. It’s dispatching senior executives to woo antitrust enforcers. And it’s poaching senior staff from government agencies and congressional offices.

Federal records show that Amazon lobbied more government entities than any other tech company in 2018 and sought to exert its influence over more issues than any of its tech peers except Alphabet’s Google.

bezos graph

Last year, Amazon spent $14.2 million on lobbying, a record for the company, up from its previous high mark of $12.8 million in 2017. Since 2012, Amazon has ramped up spending by more than 460%—much faster than its rivals.

Amazon is also showing a new level of assertiveness in advancing its corporate interests, though largely out of the public eye. The company’s recent high-profile imbroglios, which include the abrupt abandonment of a deal for a new headquarters in New York City and CEO Jeff Bezos’ blackmail allegations against the National Enquirer, belie the extent and sophistication of the company’s behind-the-scenes efforts.

Jay Carney, Barack Obama’s express secretary and now Amazon’s senior VP, global corporate affairs, oversees the Washington policy office, whose roster of in-house lobbyists ballooned to 28 in 2018, from 11 in 2015. That doesn’t include the 13 outside lobbying firms Amazon employs. “They realised they’re just getting so big,” says Frank Pasquale, a University of Maryland law professor, of Amazon’s lobbying prowess. “They’re crushing so many small players, they’re recognising that there’s going to be some political backlash.”

One of Amazon’s priorities is to persuade federal agencies to rent Amazon’s vast cloud computing services rather than maintain their own. The company also wants to power a planned, government-wide ecommerce portal for official purchases of everything from office furniture to paper clips—a $50 billion market.

As Amazon looks to build a bigger book of business in Washington, one major irritant has arisen: President Donald Trump. Judging from his tweets, he considers Bezos his biggest corporate nemesis. While the US hasn’t challenged Amazon’s business practices, “I have to think some people are thinking about it”, says Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute, which studies technology and the workforce.
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