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Did Jeff Bezos' secret DC plan just take flight?

Monday, 2 Dec 2013 | 1:00 PM ET
Jeff Bezos
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Jeff Bezos

Does Jeff Bezos have a secret plan to influence Washington to approve his new vision to deliver packages via drone aircraft?

That's at least one way some Beltway insiders are reading Bezos' move to buy The Washington Post in light of Sunday night's shocking disclosure on CBS's "60 Minutes" that Amazon was testing a drone-based delivery system for products under 5 pounds.

Bezos said the system, which would have small aircraft carrying products to consumer doorsteps from local distribution centers, was still several years away from launch and faced a number of major obstacles.

(Read more: Why the Amazon drone is just the beginning)

"The hard part here is putting in all the redundancy, all the reliability, all the systems you need to say this can't land on somebody's head," he said in a lengthy chat with CBS' Charlie Rose.

But beyond not landing on people's heads, there will also be significant Washington-related questions facing the bold Amazon project.

(Read more: Amazon says testing delivery by drone)

And that's what has conspiracy whisperers suggesting Bezos' purchase of the nation's capital's dominant newspaper was intended less as a business play than as a way to have a big editorial voice in Washington.

And Bezos wouldn't have to use his own editorial page—which he has pledged to leave independent—as a direct bludgeon to argue for policies beneficial to Amazon. Washington lobbyists note that the very fact that Bezos owns the Post and its coveted op-ed and news space would tend to make politicians more inclined to take positions that would not run counter to Amazon's ambitions for fear of having their submissions rejected or their actions covered in negative ways.

One DC lobbyist said he thought the influence angle was plausible but suggested other bigger motivations for the Post purchase. "He could have spent a fraction of the cost on lobbyists and probably achieved same result," the lobbyist said. "I think he bought the paper because he sees himself as a media tycoon like Pulitzer and wants to take a shot at reviving the industry."

(Read more: Conoco in landmark Alaska drone flight)

Amazon drone & Washington scrutiny
Discussing if Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post for political influence, with James Pethokoukis, American Enterprise Institute journalist, and Ben White, Politico chief economic correspondent.

On the drone project, the Federal Aviation Administration is currently attempting to craft rules surrounding the use of drones in the U.S. for commercial purposes and will not likely complete the effort until at least 2015. That means Amazon will want to beat back the efforts of privacy advocates who say that commercial drones risk creating a climate of constant surveillance in the nation's airways. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., has already introduced a bill that would impose privacy rules on commercial drone operators.

The CBS interview also touched on Amazon's cloud computing project for the CIA in which Bezos said the company was building an entirely private cloud network for the U.S. international spy agency.

Bezos denied there was a conflict in both conducting a massive project for the federal government and owning one of the top newspapers reporting on the federal government. But there is likely to be increased chatter in DC following the CBS segment that Bezos' ownership of the Post raises some uncomfortable questions.

(Read more: Start-ups, investors bet on drone economy)

Bezos,for his part, has dismissed any notion that he would buy the Post for Beltway influence. He has said he hopes to create a new "golden era" at the paper, which he bought for $250 million, and will have very little to do with day-to-day operations and will only offer broad strategic business advice from his home base of Seattle.

The big question now is whether it will actually be a golden era of influence for Amazon in DC.

—By Ben White. White is POLITICO's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet POLITICO Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney]. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.

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