Amazon.com Inc. and its Amazon Business portal are big players in government procurement, but President Donald Trump pushed back harder today on the company’s lobbying efforts.
Trump resumed his public campaign against The Washington Post, calling the newspaper an “expensive lobbyist” for Amazon, which shares billionaire Jeff Bezos as an owner.
Trump has previously argued that the online seller has a “huge antitrust” problem. His administration could theoretically act against Amazon through antitrust, the U.S. Postal Service, consumer protection probes or even a push against Amazon’s government contract business.
Amazon fell as much as 2.4% after Trump’s tweet, before recovering some of that loss. The shares were down 0.7% to $1,800.25 at 10:26 a.m. in New York.
Trump’s broadside against The Washington Post follows a report in the newspaper Sunday that he was venting behind the scenes over a lack of progress in negotiations with North Korea on eliminating its nuclear program. Shortly before criticizing the Post, the president tweeted that “all of Asia is happy” with the progress and noted that North Korea hadn’t conducted a ballistic missile or nuclear test in months.
“But the Fake News is saying, without ever asking me (always anonymous sources), that I am angry because it is not going fast enough,” Trump said. “Wrong, very happy!”
Fifteen minutes later he began tweeting about Amazon.
“The Amazon Washington Post has gone crazy against me ever since they lost the Internet Tax Case in the U.S. Supreme Court two months ago. Next up is the U.S. Post Office which they use, at a fraction of real cost, as their ‘delivery boy’ for a BIG percentage of their packages,” Trump said in a Twitter posting.
Amazon wasn’t involved in the Supreme Court case, which pitted South Dakota against three smaller online retailers. The court voted 5-4 to let state and local governments require that online merchants collect sales taxes from customers, even if the merchant doesn’t have a physical presence, such as a store or warehouse, in the state.
Even before the ruling, Amazon charged consumers in states with a sales tax, though only when selling products from its own inventory. About half its sales involve goods owned by millions of third-party merchants, many of which don’t collect taxes. Although Amazon once opposed online sales tax, in recent years it has spoken out in favor of making most online merchants collect sales tax.
Trump followed up the tweet minutes later: “In my opinion the Washington Post is nothing more than an expensive (the paper loses a fortune) lobbyist for Amazon. Is it used as protection against antitrust claims which many feel should be brought?”
Brad Parscale, the manager for Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, is also said to have complained about the company to Trump.
The traditional independence and slow pace of investigations of the Justice Department or Federal Trade Commission could limit Trump’s ability to direct antitrust sanctions against the company.
Amazon spent $3.47 million on lobbying in the second quarter of 2018, a company quarterly record, according to Friday filings with the government. Last year, it spent more than $13 million on lobbyists, according to OpenSecrets.org, an organization that tracks such expenditures.
Trump has repeatedly attacked Amazon, the Post and its owner, Amazon Chief Executive Officer Bezos. In April, after several attacks on the online retail giant, Trump created a task force to review the business practices of the Postal Service. Amazon regularly uses the Postal Service to complete what’s called the “last mile” of delivery.
Trump has often said the postal service loses money because of Amazon. The service, legally prohibited from charging shippers less than its delivery costs, disputes the claim.
Amazon has been the subject of intense scrutiny among a young generation of antitrust activists, who argue that the current antitrust enforcement framework is ill-equipped to tackle Amazon’s dominance and the potential harm it poses to competition.
One of the architects of the argument, Lina Khan of the Open Markets Institute think tank, will be joining Federal Trade Commissioner Rohit Chopra’s office.
If the administration opens an antitrust inquiry, enforcers would have to show the company has a monopoly in a market and that it abused its dominant position. But enforcers are intently focused on harm to consumers, and Amazon’s retailing platform is beloved by its customers for its breadth and convenience.
In its contracting business with the federal government and public agencies, Amazon has made great strides while also taking on criticism. Several of its rivals in cloud technology services have sought to pressure the Pentagon to avoid a pending “winner-take-all” contract they assert would favor Amazon Web Services, and a recent report by a public agency watchdog group contends that Amazon Business is taking advantage of a large procurement contract with municipalities, school districts and other public institutions.
An Amazon company spokeswoman, Jodi Seth, declined to comment on the tweets Monday.
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