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Amazon's Major Money Dump in Seattle's City Council Election Seen as 'Dangerous and Ominous Development'

"It's supposed to be a democratic process and it's not a democratic process when Amazon can contribute that much to basically a small election."

Seattle city council member Kshama Sawant may be heading to electoral defeat after a sustained campaign against her candidacy by Amazon.

Seattle city council member Kshama Sawant may be heading to electoral defeat after a sustained campaign against her candidacy by Amazon. (Photo: AP file)

An attempt by Amazon to fill the Seattle city council with members more supportive of the company than the current progressive slate was called a chilling development for city government by critics of the move after Tuesday's election.

Socialist councilor Kshama Sawant, one of the company's top targets, told The Guardian that her race had been uphill and that the power of a massive corporation like Amazon stacked against her campaign had been difficult to overcome.

"We have run a historic grassroots campaign, with working people, community members rejecting Amazon and billionaires' attempt to buy this election, and that doesn't mean we're going to win every battle against the billionaires," said Sawant. "What matters is the political clarity that the billionaires are not on our side and that this is going to be a struggle."

Seattle is still waiting for the final results in the race—Washington has a mail-in voting system that makes final counts unavailable for days after voting—but as of Wednesday, it looked likely that Sawant and fellow socialist Shaun Scott were headed for defeat against Amazon-backed candidates Egan Orion and Alex Pederson, respectively. Neither Scott nor Sawant had conceded at press time. 

Amazon dumped cash into the race via a super PAC, according to Bloomberg:

Amazon, the biggest employer in Seattle, contributed $1.45 million to a business-backed political-action committee to help elect council members Amazon views as more favorable to its interests and those of the business community.

The group, called the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, backed six new candidates for seven open council seats. Three of them are trailing in early results. It also backed one incumbent, who is leading her race. Two positions were not up for election this year.

In a Medium post from November 1, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), whose district includes much of Seattle, said she was unsettled by the company's involvement in the election.

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"I am extremely disturbed by the unprecedented amount of money that Amazon has dumped into Seattle City Council elections—not just a thumb, but a fistful of cash, on the scales of democracy," wrote Jayapal.

Justice Democrats communications director Waleed Shahid noted the insidious nature of that corporate influence in a city where campaign finance is set up to avoid such spending.

"Amazon's attempt to buy Seattle's city council even as the city has a public financing system is a dangerous and ominous development unfolding in one of the bluest parts of the country," Shahid tweeted.

Journalist Walker Bragman, on Twitter, called the results an example of a broken political system. 

"What happened in Seattle is chilling," said Bragman. "Americans will either beat the ruling class at the ballot box or in the streets. This inequality is unsustainable."

Seattle voter Sarah Champernowne, a Sawant supporter, said that Amazon's involvement in the race was anti-democratic.

"It's supposed to be a democratic process and it's not a democratic process when Amazon can contribute that much to basically a small election," said Champernowne.

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