- The Washington Times
Sunday, January 19, 2020

Jeff Bezos and his Big Tech compatriots have suddenly become the new Koch brothers.

After Mr. Bezos’ Amazon poured more than $1 million into Seattle’s municipal elections last year, the city council responded by slapping new restrictions on corporate money in politics.

It’s part of a left-wing backlash against Big Tech becoming a behemoth on the American political scene.

Free Speech for People, a liberal advocacy group, helped push the legislation that sailed through Seattle’s city council after Amazon, which is based in the city, filled the coffers of a political action committee affiliated with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce before last year’s elections.

Left-leaning activists capitalized on concerns about Big Tech and foreign interference in elections to drive the bill, saying corporations function as proxies for foreign entities wanting to influence American politics.

The measure prevents foreign-influenced corporations from making independent expenditures or contributions to campaigns and independent expenditure committees. “Foreign-influenced” companies are those that have more than 1% ownership by a foreign national or 5% ownership by multiple foreign nationals.

Ron Fein, the legal director for Free Speech for People, said his group is working on pushing similar legislation in Maryland, Massachusetts and New York City, and had success passing a similar ordinance in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2017.

He views the Seattle legislation as a model for states to follow nationwide.

“Foreign influence in our elections comes in many forms and [this is] one that has not gained attention until recently,” Mr. Fein said. “The problem is larger than just one company.”

Mr. Fein said Uber, the ride-hailing tech company, raises similar concerns.

The political currency of anti-Amazon sentiment on the left, however, is perhaps unmatched. Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rode a wave of anti-Amazon fervor to demonstrate her political clout before the New York Democrat formally entered Congress.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez took a lead role in vocally opposing Amazon’s efforts to build a second headquarters in Queens as a representative-elect, which helped prompt the company to scrap plans to build an “HQ2” affecting her district.

But going after Amazon is not confined to the left. President Trump has frequently criticized Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon itself and The Washington Post, which Mr. Bezos owns.

Amazon is protesting a massive Defense Department contract awarded in November to Microsoft, saying that Amazon Web Services didn’t win the contract because of Mr. Trump’s frequent attacks against the company.

Mr. Trump’s right-leaning allies are eager to criticize Amazon as well. The newly formed Internet Accountability Project has attacked Amazon and other tech companies to try to get them to protect conservative lawmakers and law enforcers who side with consumers.

“With Big Tech, especially corporations like Google and Amazon, you’re seeing monopolies use their monopoly power to harm the market and consumers,” said Mike Davis, IAP founder. “Like with monopolies in the past, Amazon is trying to capture regulators in Washington, D.C., so they can protect their monopoly power.”

Mr. Fein said that since Congress has failed to act to rein in major technology companies, state and local governments may be the best route for him to advance his agenda.

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