Blow to Amazon as Seattle passes new political spending restrictions

Key Points
  • On Monday, Seattle's city council passed a bill that prevents companies like Amazon from spending big in local elections.
  • The bill prohibits corporations from contributing to local elections if foreign investors hold a substantial amount of stock.
  • Amazon poured a record $1.5 million into Seattle's City Council elections in 2019. 
Jeff Bezos
Elif Ozturk | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Seattle City Council passed a bill Monday that establishes new restrictions on corporate donations in local elections, delivering a blow to the likes of Amazon.

The bill prohibits companies from spending money on city elections if at least 5% of their stock is owned by foreign investors. Amazon, which is headquartered in Seattle, would fall under that umbrella, as foreign investors hold at least 9% of its stock, according to Reuters.

Lorena Gonzalez, City Council president and the bill's author, said the campaign finance restrictions would result in a "big shift" in how corporations can influence local elections.

"We have an epidemic of big money in our elections, and this step helps to address the appearance and risk of corruption in our local elections," Gonzalez said. "Essentially, this legislation closes a loophole that previously allowed foreign persons to use their ownership in a corporation to influence political activity."

Representatives from Amazon weren't immediately available for comment.

Amazon poured a record $1.5 million into Seattle's city council races in 2019, hoping to elect a number of candidates viewed as more friendly to businesses. By comparison, Amazon donated just $130,000 to city council candidates in 2015.

Amazon's effort largely failed when socialist candidate Kshama Sawant was reelected last November. Sawant pushed for a "head tax" on the city's largest companies, such as Amazon, with the goal of using it to fight Seattle's housing crisis. The Seattle City Council approved the tax in May 2018, only for it to be repealed a few weeks later, after intense pressure from Amazon and other businesses.

Seattle is the second city to pass restrictions on foreign influence in local elections, following in the footsteps of St. Petersburg, Florida, which passed a similar ordinance in 2017.

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