Amazon – which pays no federal taxes in the US – has been accused of being “callously disrespectful” to voters in Seattle after it emerged it had spent $1.5m in contributions to local election candidates it considers “pro-business”.
The elections for Seattle’s nine-member city council, which has an annual budget of just $5.9bn are usually a small scale affair, and involve a modest amount of spending on campaign advertising.
But the 2019 election, which takes place on Tuesday, has become engulfed in controversy after Amazon, and other major companies based in the city, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to a political action committee, that has thrown its support behind candidates it thinks will be better for big businesses.
In addition to Amazon, which has contributed 1.5m, Microsoft and Expedia have also given money to the PAC, which calls itself the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE).
Locals say the influx of money in the local election is unprecedented. Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the Democratic Party’s frontrunners for the 2020 presidential nomination, last month condemned the development.
“Amazon is trying to tilt the Seattle city council elections in their favour,” she said on Twitter. “I’m with the Seattle council members and activists who continue standing up to Amazon. Corporations aren’t people, and I have a plan to get big money out of politics.”
Local Democratic congresswoman Pramila Jayapul, co-chair of the Democratic caucus in the House and an author of a Medicare for All bill in the lower chamber, has now gone further, telling reporters that Amazon’s actions were an insult to local voters.
“This most recent influx of money from Amazon is callously disrespectful to the residents of our city,” she told reporters.
According to The Stranger, she added: “It says loud and clear that some people are afraid of letting real democracy work for the people.”
Amazon and other major companies have previously kept out of the city’s local politics, despite spending some money at a federal level, and directing more than $12m to lobbying efforts last year. Four years ago, it gave just $25,000 to CASE.
But the company, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, is the richest man in the world and is worth an estimated around $110bn, was angered by proposals first raised in 2017 to charge large corporations a so-called “head tax” to help pay for services for the homeless.
Along with cities such as Los Angles and San Francisco, liberal Seattle has one of the worst homeless crises in the nation, and a housing market that has massively leapt in cost over the last decade.
City mayor Jenny Durkan and other members of the council, only backed away from the head tax after Amazon, which would have had to pay $11m a year, threatened to halt its development in the city. The company employs around 50,000 people in Seattle.
Kshama Sawant, a Socialist Alternative party member on the council, has also condemned Amazon’s actions, protesting outside its city centre headquarters. “What’s at stake this year is who runs Seattle,” she wrote on her website. “Amazon and big business or working people.”
Amazon did not immediately respond to enquiries.
In a statement to the Associated Press, spokesman Aaron Toso said: “We are contributing to this election because we care deeply about the future of Seattle.”
He added: “We believe it is critical that our hometown has a city council that is focused on pragmatic solutions to our shared challenges in transportation, homelessness, climate change and public safety.”