Amazon.com invested $1.5 million in Seattle City Council races, looking to oust many of the far-left council people who had slapped a $275 per employee “head tax” on big businesses in Seattle. That tax was repealed a month later when Seattle businesses threatened to put the tax on the ballot and the city council folded.
But all that cash didn’t buy them what they were looking for. Four of the six candidates they supported lost and a radical socialist they had targeted for defeat won a narrow victory.
In a blow to Amazon, the socialist candidate Kshama Sawant appeared on Saturday to have beaten the business-backed Egan Orion for a seat on Seattle city council, despite an unprecedented financial effort from the tech giant.
Amazon is headquartered in the city. It ploughed $1.5m into the city council election through a political action committee sponsored by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
Civic Alliance For A Sound Economy dispensed about $440,000 in support of Orion and backed six other candidates considered business-friendly. In 2015, according to the New York Times, Amazon and its employees only contributed about $130,000 to city council candidates.
Amazon halted construction of a new downtown Seattle tower when the tax was being considered. After altering the structure of the tax — including cutting it in half — the city council went ahead and passed it.
That led to an intense campaign to get enough signatures to put the issue of repealing the tax on the ballot. Of course, it was destined to succeed as voters may be liberal but they’re not dumb. The construction unions opposed the tax because they knew it would severely restrict construction and cost jobs. Even the Seattle Times opposed the tax. Needless to say, businesses easily got enough signatures.
The campaign to repeal the tax was no contest. Polls showed about 55 percent of residents opposed the tax while many others thought there were better ways to raise revenue.
Finally, when the public’s ire began to be directed against the council, they gave in and repealed the tax.
What changed council members’ minds about the head tax, though, was the tenor of the campaign to oppose it, which began to morph into a broad criticism of Seattle’s city council and its members. One ad, for example, showed a picture of council member Mike O’Brien with the headline, “Councilmember O’Brien admits that the City Council has no plan,” and was paid for by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, according to The Stranger. The No Tax On Jobs campaign successfully shepherded the anger of hundreds of city residents over homelessness into anger at the city council itself. Council members and their progressive allies began to worry that not only would they lose the referendum, but they’d also get voted out of office come November. “It would be a very bad outcome if we lost horribly at the ballot, and they all get booted out this year,” Wilson told me.
And that’s what nearly happened.
Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative party and a former tech worker, was elected six years ago as the first socialist on the Seattle council in almost 100 years. On election night she trailed Orion by 8%. But as more ballots were counted she closed the gap, and by Friday evening, with the vast majority of ballots counted, she was up by almost 4%, or about 1,500 votes.
Now, Amazon fears that the victories will have emboldened the city council radicals who will try to reimpose the head tax — along with a lot more. Homelessness in Seattle — as it is in other big cities run by the far left — has reached crisis proportions. The council members think that the best way to solve homelessness is to tax businesses and use the cash to build “affordable” housing. Meanwhile, fewer jobs will be available for everyone.
When people who don’t understand basic economics are in charge of major cities, you get businesses that are overtaxed and overregulated. Amazon is not likely to leave Seattle. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that they won’t be constructing any new buildings in the city any time soon.