The union of a series of points, apparently unconnected steps taken during the last seven years, draws a sophisticated choreography that reveals the strategy of Jeff Bezos in his approach to Washington, the capital of political power, where the future of the company is settled. It has made him the richest person in the world. A strategy of influence, discreetly deployed as his creature, Amazon, grew and grew to overflow the seams of the known. A plan that this Wednesday, with its testimony before some legislators alarmed by the power accumulated by Amazon and other technology giants, has suffered a major setback, if it has not been directly blown up.
Bezos (Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1961) landed symbolically in Washington in the summer of 2013, buying for $ 250 million. The Washington Post, newspaper struck by years of losses. It was not acquired by Amazon, but by Bezos himself, who became the first great Internet businessman to rescue a newspaper. If saving the most beloved capital by the capital’s elites was not a glorious enough gateway, on October 21, 2016 the businessman bought the largest private house in the city for $ 23 million. A 2,500-square-meter mansion, which housed the textile museum, located in the exclusive neighborhood of Kalorama, which has among its illustrious neighbors the Obamas, as well as Ivanka Trump and Jared Kurshner, daughter and advisor to the current president.
Two years later, in November 2018, Bezos decided to take Crystal City (Virginia), a suburb of the capital, just five metro stops from the center, Amazon’s second headquarters and, with it, up to 25,000 stalls. well-paid job. Creature from the west coast, who has been dividing his time mainly between Seattle and Los Angeles, the businessman has already made clear in his day that changing the coast was not in his immediate plans. But among the luxurious pied-à-terre and the construction along with the Potomac of the other great leg of its business, the presence of Bezos and Amazon in the capital has been intensifying.
That, not to mention his work in lobby. Bezos’ approach to Washington has gone hand in hand with his company’s increased investment in political influence. Amazon today has an army of more than a hundred lobbyists, who work in 24 different subject areas. Last year, according to The New York Times, invested $ 16.8 million in the work of lobby to the federal Administration, almost double that of just five years ago, and allocated 11.1 million to thinks tanks and associations, double that in 2018.
In his latest public appearances in the city, Bezos has conspicuously avoided linking his name to Amazon’s. In May last year, he chose an auditorium in the capital to present his project of reaching the Moon in less than five years, with his aerospace company Blue Origin. Three months later, he held a meeting with a group of journalists at the National Press Club, just a few blocks from the White House, to report that Amazon will meet the emissions reduction targets of the Paris Agreement ten years earlier than that the climate pact sets as objective. But at the meeting, the company’s logo was conspicuous by its absence, hidden behind what the businessman sold as a project, called the Climate Promise, much more extensive. “Amazon is only the first signatory,” said Bezos, accompanied by former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres. Neither in her social activity does she seem to throw away a corporate business card: when last January, after the renovation work was completed, she opened the doors of her brand-new mansion to the capital society, the invitations to the cocktail party were sent from an address in the Post and simply signed with his first name: “Jeff”.
Today, Amazon is much more than the world’s largest bookstore or the company that revolutionized retail. It is also a content provider online and cloud technology, a giant of entertainment and digital advertising, and has entered the food sector and even healthcare. The potential brakes for its expansion come from the regulatory arena and, like all technology giants, Amazon faces distrust of political power.
And that will be evident this Wednesday, when Bezos, accompanied by his peers at Apple (Tim Cook), Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg) and Google (Sundar Pichai), faces the questions of the congressmen who have spent more than a year investigating the suspicions of abuse of power, damage to free competition and mistreatment of consumers by their companies. The coronavirus pandemic, which has rocked the American economy, has made Bezos even richer. And it has turned Amazon’s main activity, that of selling online, in an even more buoyant business. Circumstances that lawmakers are not likely to overlook in their interrogations this Wednesday.
Amazon has been reluctant for months to send its boss to testify on Capitol Hill, and only relented when congressmen threatened to issue a formal subpoena. Unlike his colleagues in that exclusive club of captains of the new economic power, Bezos has managed to avoid accountability to politicians and the public to date. So this Wednesday’s show on Capitol Hill, though mitigated by the fact that the four protagonists will testify via video conference, is a lot like what Bezos has tried so carefully to avoid.