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Amazon gears up to defend itself against escalating antitrust scrutiny

Katherine Khashimova Long, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

Amazon is currently looking to hire more Seattle- and Virginia-based attorneys to "advise the company on a wide variety of cutting edge legal and business risk management issues," including in the realm of antitrust, according to job listings posted March 19 and Jan. 21. Amazon's desired "basic qualifications" for the roles include former government service.

The company also has two open positions for economists on the team handling antimonopoly issues. Amazon is "looking for an economist to help develop economic models and evidence to support legal and regulatory matters across all lines of our business," one listing reads. Preferred qualifications include experience "working in or closely with a regulatory agency" and "in complex business litigation, in particular on antitrust matters."

Amazon's teams dealing with antitrust matters have grown more slowly than the company as a whole, Perlet said. The company added nearly 450,000 employees globally last year, mostly at its warehouses, as the pandemic juiced demand for online shopping.

In addition to staffing up internally, Amazon has enlisted outside help to advise it on antitrust matters.

Attorneys from Covington & Burling, a firm whose antitrust practice boasts a deep bench of former FTC and DOJ antitrust employees, represented Jeff Bezos during his testimony to the House antitrust committee last summer. Amazon also tapped prominent antitrust expert and Big Tech critic Fiona Scott Morton to advise the company in the lead-up to that hearing.

In 2020, Amazon spent $18.7 million courting federal officials, more than any other company except Facebook, and more than Amazon has ever spent on lobbying in a single year.

 

As the company has expanded, so has its lobbying footprint. Amazon lobbied federal officials last year on an array of topics, including COVID-19, data privacy, drones and veteran employment.

Amazon also spent significant resources to lobby members of Congress, the DOJ, the FTC and former President Trump on competition-related issues, lobbying disclosures show. Starting in summer 2019, it enlisted three firms — Ballard Partners, Subject Matter and Akin Gump — to lobby on issues including competition policy. The company has deployed many of its own employees to do the same since at least 2017. And since 2016, Amazon has paid $120,000 a year to former DOJ antitrust litigator Seth Bloom to lobby the administration solely on antitrust issues.

Since the release of the House antitrust report last fall, Amazon has stressed in communications with news media that it occupies a relatively small portion of the overall retail market, including physical stores, even though it has become the dominant e-commerce retailer. It has also sought to portray itself as an enabler of small business. For the first time last year, Amazon did not report its own holiday season earnings. Instead, it reported sales of third-party vendors on its Marketplace platform.

Amazon leaders have also played up their ties to the Biden administration and resonance on policy issues, including support for a federal $15 minimum wage. Jay Carney, Amazon's senior vice president for policy, is a former Obama and Biden aide; his Twitter profile features a photo with Biden's arm draped around Carney's neck.

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