It's the latest instance of a tech company arguing that regulation would harm communities of color.
The push from Amazon this week is the latest effort by the tech giants to fight unfavorable legislation by claiming it will hurt minority groups. | David Ryder/Getty Images
By Emily Birnbaum
Amazon this week gave marching orders to one of its consultants: Push hard on the narrative that legislation to rein in Amazon’s power will harm communities of color.
In an email exchange mistakenly forwarded to POLITICO, Amazon spokesperson Julia Lawless asked a consultant with FTI Consulting to press media outlets to report on a letter from a minority group criticizing the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, S. 2992 (117), a bill moving through Congress that would block the largest tech companies from giving preference to their own products over their competitors.
“Would it be possible for you all to push this with some of the newsletters — Politico tech, Politico Health, etc to underscore continued concern from a broad cross section of groups, including communities of color?” Lawless wrote.
Lawless linked to a letter the National Minority Quality Forum, an advocacy group focused on health disparities among minority groups, sent to lawmakers raising concerns about whether the bill would protect against health data breaches. The letter was addressed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the bill’s Democratic co-sponsor Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who are working to pass the bill by the end of the summer.
The push from Amazon this week is the latest effort by the tech giants to fight unfavorable legislation by claiming it will hurt minority groups, including by funding some of these advocates, as POLITICO previously reported. The National Minority Quality Forum lists Amazon as one of its corporate partners.
The email shows that the company is continuing to focus its lobbying muscle on that message, and provides a fresh glimpse into how Amazon tries to execute this strategy in the press and through its consultants.
Companies frequently push messaging that is favorable to their causes from advocacy groups. But the email is notable because it provides new details on how Amazon is working to beat back the most serious regulatory threat the tech industry has faced in decades.
The social justice message is particularly resonant during the Biden era, during which Democrats have emphasized racial and ethnic discrimination.
It’s a controversial talking point for the company, which has been criticized for mistreating its Black and Muslim employees, selling racially biased facial recognition technology and spreading pollution in communities of color with its warehouses.
Tech lobbyists have spent months pushing messages opposing the legislation from minority groups that receive funding from the major tech companies, including Amazon, Google and Meta. Google earlier this year urged reporters to cover a letter denouncing the legislation from the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade group representing Black newspaper publishers that has received funding from Google.
“In a last-ditch attempt to preserve their corrosive powers, big tech is now circulating arguments that antitrust legislation will harm Black communities,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of House tech antitrust legislation and former whip of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in an email to POLITICO earlier this year. “I don’t buy it.”
In Wednesday’s email exchange, the FTI consultant replied to Amazon that while he would be glad to promote the letter to media outlets, he was not sure if he was allowed to do so, given that FTI has not been authorized to “do external outreach on behalf of Amazon.” It has not previously been publicly disclosed that FTI, one of the largest financial advisory firms in the world, works for Amazon.
“I’m happy to reach out to Brendan and Sarah, but just want to make doubly sure I am not exceeding our mandate with you,” the consultant wrote to Amazon, referencing the authors of POLITICO’s daily tech and health care policy newsletters. “There is a decent chance Brendan and/or Sarah will ask if we are sending this on behalf of a client. Are you okay if I say Amazon?”
FTI Consulting and Amazon declined to comment. The National Minority Quality Forum did not respond to a request for comment.
The consultant mistakenly copied a POLITICO reporter in on the email. Shortly after he sent an apologetic email to the reporter. “I obviously just sent an internal discussion email to you on accident,” he wrote. “As you can read, it was pre-decisional.”
Brendan Bordelon contributed to this report.
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Amazon urges consultant to 'push' message from minority groups – POLITICO