Seattleites prove their vote is not for sale

Amazon dumped $1.5 million into Seattle city elections, voters disapproved

Kate Erickson, Staff Writer

the amazon spheres are seen with the space needle in the background
Aly Cotte
The Amazon Sphere located in Downtown Seattle.

In January of 2019, Microsoft committed to putting $500 million toward building affordable housing in Seattle. Later in June, Google commited $1 billion to increase affordable housing in the Bay Area.


Amazon, another multi-billion dollar company, donated $1.5 million to the super PAC associated with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. This money was used to pay for advertisements and canvassers, which boosted pro-business Seattle City Council candidates Mark Solomon, Egan Orin and Alex Pedersen who ran against Tammy Morales, Kshama Sawant and Shaun Scott, respectively


The news of Amazon’s hefty donation caused a national discussion, and even drew the attention of Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.


“In a city struggling with homelessness, Amazon is dropping an outrageous amount of money to defeat progressive candidates fighting for working people,” Sanders tweeted to his 10 million followers. 


“The way Amazon conducts itself in its hometown is a perfect example of the out-of-control corporate greed we are going to end.”


Although disappointing, this kind of behavior is not shocking — Amazon pulled the same charade last year. 


In May 2018, the city council voted to pass the head tax. This tax would have cost businesses that grossed at $20 million or more $275 per employee in efforts to fund affordable housing programs for the homeless and unsheltered people of Seattle. The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce — a super PAC financially supported by Amazon — opposed the head tax. Amazon would have been forced to donate around $12.4 million, which is 0.0068% of CEO Jeff Bezos’s estimated annual income in 2018. 


Luckily for the tech titan, the tax was repealed in June of 2018. 


Amazon may have avoided the tax in 2018, but candidates presented a new plan in 2019. Although the money Amazon dropped into the election targeted Morales and Scott, Amazon’s main threat was self-proclaimed socialist Kashama Sawant, who ran for reelection in District 3. 


Sawant and Amazon have a history. 


She has been pushing rent control since 2013, successfully raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2014 and she is a huge supporter of the head tax — all of which are initiatives that negatively affect Amazon’s profits. 


When Amazon announced that it would develop another headquarters outside of Seattle in 2017, Sawant issued a statement on where she said, “. . . we need to unionize, and to take these behemoths into democratic public ownership, so that they are run not for profit for a few, but in the interests of the majority of working people and of society.”


“However, this can be achieved only by building powerful movements that are independent of the politicians and parties that have aided and abetted corporations like Amazon.”


Sawant’s 2019 campaign slogan was, “re-elect the council member money can’t buy,” and her central platform on housing is rent control and homes for all. She plans to provide citizens with more government housing, On her website, Sawant stated that to fund government owned housing she will, “tax the rich and bring back the Amazon tax,” 


She later mentioned Amazon concerning eviction and gentrification.


“Perhaps most tragically, the total amount of back rent owed by everyone facing eviction in 2017 was a little under $1 million,” Sawant said on her campaign website. “Less than the CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos makes in one hour!”


Although Amazon’s financial support was meant to boost candidates running against Sawant, the money had almost the opposite effect. Sawant’s campaign gained momentum after Amazon’s support became national news, and the spite Seattleites had for Jeff Bezos grew. Egan Orion, LGBTQ+ community figure and business owner, was Sawant’s primary opponent.


“Unfortunately, when Amazon dropped over $1 million into the City Council races just as ballots were sent out, our closing arguments were completely subsumed by national media attention,” said Orion. “It made the election, not about my opponent’s record and policies, but Amazon and their massive unneeded spending.”


Candidates cannot choose who supports them. Amazon’s actions caused these candidates to be branded with the company’s stamp of approval, diverting attention from the candidates’ policies. Orion was a worthy candidate with progressive ideas, but Amazon was not supporting Orion: it was doing anything it could to destroy Sawant. 


On Nov. 5, voting commenced and the results suggested that Amazon’s $1.5 million was spent in vain, as Sawant and Morales were elected as council members of their districts. Although Sawant has stated that she “… look[s] forward to working with the new City Council to urgently pass a strong tax,” only time will tell if this ‘Amazon Tax’ will ever become a reality. 


Amazon is not going anywhere and this dance with the devil has only just begun. The people of Seattle may have made it clear that their vote cannot be bought, but they cannot ignore that money holds more power and this small victory is not the last time they will have to hold their ground. Hopefully, “the Amazon tax” will pass and progressives with a Prime account will finally be able to sleep at night.