The Bezos Family Foundation: Mr. Bezos goes to Washington
By Jonathan Hanen, Foundation Watch, April 2014 (PDF here)
Summary: The foundation that bears the name of Jeff Bezos, founder of online retailing giant Amazon, provides insight into the political vision he will bring to Washington. The Bezos Family Foundation does advocate for some smart opportunity education policies, such as charter schools and testing, and Bezos has managed thus far to combine social liberalism with fiscal conservatism. But the far Left’s hope that Bezos will be a transformational post-partisan figure, as well as the center-right’s hope for a progressive reformer are overblown. The self-interested lobbying activities of Bezos’s PAC, as regards the Marketplace Fairness Act, reveal a pattern of Beltway politics as usual.
Jeff Bezos, 50, is best known as one of America’s greatest innovators and entrepreneurs of the Internet age. He is the face of the dotcom 1990s who founded Amazon, the online retail sales giant that raked in $27.2 billion in revenue for 2013. Forbes currently lists Bezos as 15th on its list of most powerful people, 12th on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans, and 19th on the same magazine’s list of the world’s billionaires.
Bezos was born on January 12, 1964, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He showed an early interest in electronics, according to Biography.com. In his teenage years, after his family moved to Miami, he developed a love for computers. He excelled in school, became the valedictorian, and started his first business, “the Dream Institute, an educational summer camp for fourth, fifth and sixth graders.”
Bezos graduated summa cum laude from Princeton in 1986 with a degree in computer science and electrical engineering. “After graduation, he found work at several firms on Wall Street including Fitel, Bankers Trust, and the investment firm D.E. Shaw where he met his wife Mackenzie and was named the youngest vice president in 1990.” Bezos was well-compensated on Wall Street, but in 1994 he took what was then a great risk by going into the brave new world of electronic commerce. He quit Wall Street and moved to Seattle to open an online bookstore.
Amazon opened for business on July 16, 1995, and took off like a rocket. Within two months, Amazon was selling books in the U.S. and 45 other countries at a clip of $20,000 weekly. Amazon had its initial public offering in 1997 and became a top e-commerce company in only two years. Amazon diversified its business in 1998 by adding compact discs and videos to its online offerings. The company subsequently partnered with other retailers to offer clothes, electronics, toys, and a cornucopia of other products.
Many profitable “dotcoms” of the early to mid-1990s have long since vanished, but Amazon has prospered and survived to become one of the greatest successes, with sales expanding from $510,000 in 1995 to over $17 billion in 2011.
Bezos is not merely a CEO with a gift for supply chain management; he is also an inventor who likes to take risks in order to innovate and evolve. In 2007, Amazon released the Kindle, the revolutionary digital book reader that allows users to download books with the touch of a button. Bezos entered the tablet computer marketplace with the Kindle Fire in 2011, and in September 2012, he announced the new Kindle Fire HD, the company’s next iteration of the tablet designed to compete against Apple’s iPad.
All of this commercial success would be enough to ensure Bezos a place among America’s greatest businessmen since the industrial age. Bezos, like his industrialist forbears, has now moved into the arena of political action. His own political views are the subject of intense speculation. The consensus amongst the commentariat is that he is some sort of left-leaning libertarian, or perhaps a social liberal and fiscal conservative.
Bezos donated an undisclosed sum to Reason Foundation, the publisher of the libertarian Reason magazine, and in 2010 he donated $100,000 to a successful campaign to stop a proposed tax hike on individuals earning over $200,000 per year in Washington State. In 2012, he and his wife donated $2.5 million to support a successful ballot initiative for same-sex marriage in Washington State. This donation far surpasses that of Bill Gates, one of Bezos’s peers in the pantheon of computer age entrepreneurs. The New York Times reports, “Bill Gates and Steven A. Ballmer of Microsoft each gave $100,000 to the referendum campaign, according to its officials.”
Apart from fighting an income tax hike, donating to Reason Foundation, and supporting same-sex marriage, Bezos has kept his political cards close to his chest in his public speeches and interviews. He hasn’t given much to political campaigns. He has donated just $15,000, and it was about equally split between Democratic and Republican candidates, according to Slate’s Dave Weigel, who wrote an article headlined, «Jeff Bezos, Inscrutable Libertarian Democrat.”
Amazon, for its part, has been aggressively lobbying Congress since 2011 on issues regarding telecommunications, copyright law, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and most controversially, the Internet sales tax (the proposed Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013) and individual state Internet taxes. In 2003 the Bezos Family Foundation, based in Mercer Island, Washington, was launched to promote excellence in education and leadership training for the young. In August 2013, Bezos purchased the Washington Post for $250 million. This report aims to determine Bezos’s comprehensive political intention as it comes into focus by examining the projects and funding decisions of the Bezos Family Foundation (BFF) and in Amazon’s political action committee and lobbying efforts.
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