Amazon has grown its lobbying operations by a staggering amount -- and it's fuelling speculation about where HQ2 could be

  • Amazon has rapidly expanded its Washington, DC lobbying efforts in the last five years.
  • As it strives to grow its influence in DC, a bigger corporate footprint could help.
  • The DC area is seen by many experts and analysts as one of the frontrunners in the battle for Amazon’s HQ2 project.

Amazon is taking a bigger interest in what’s going on in Washington, DC.

The company has increased its lobbying spending by more than more than 400% in the last five years. It has also widely expanded both the number of issues and the number of entities it lobbies,according to Bloomberg. To do this, it has nearly doubled the number of lobbyists it employs.

“They quietly went from Chihuahua to Great Dane in just a few years,” Bruce Mehlman, who dealt with technology policy issues under former President George W. Bush, told Bloomberg.

The company is reportedly fighting to be seen as a job creator rather than a job taker, and it’s working to have more influence in Washington as it expands and moves rapidly into areas like drone aviation, cloud computing, and grocery.

In 2015, Amazon hired Jay Carney – press secretary under former President Barack Obama – to oversee corporate affairs, and he now oversees the DC policy office, which opened in 2014.

“As one of the biggest job creators in the country, we’ve expanded our team in Washington, DC, to ensure we are able to cover the growing range of topics that are important to policymakers, our employees, and our customers,” Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, told Bloomberg in a statement.

Aside from the company’s lobbying efforts, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos himself has made his presence known in the capital. He purchased the Washington Post in 2013. He bought a lavish mansion – the largest in the city and one nearly purpose-built for hosting fancy soirĂ©es – in 2017.

“I don’t doubt that he loves journalism and thinks that ‘Democracy Dies in the Dark,'” Scott Galloway, a professor at New York University, said to Bloomberg, paraphrasing the newspaper’s motto. “But boy, it’s convenient to have the Post and a home in Washington. These are incredibly powerful prophylactics.”

These moves are also powerful signifiers of a desire to have more influence in Washington. One way Amazon could have more influence is by relocating some of its corporate operations in or near the city. It could do that with its HQ2 project, which promises to bring significant investment to the chosen area.

Three Washington, DC metro area locations made the short list for Amazon’s second headquarters: DC proper, Northern Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland.

Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, which border Washington, DC, are the only proposals under consideration that are not from a major city. It also appears that Amazon chose the 20 locations on its short list with proximity to DC – or ease of travelling there – in mind.

That may indicate Amazon has selected DC as its favourite city for HQ2.

The battle among the three DC locations is likely to be fierce, as they wouldn’t be able to point to the region as a differentiating factor and would conceivably have to throw in attractive incentives to lure the company.

There are a few other reasons Amazon may choose DC. It meets all the criteria it set for HQ2, including those for transportation, education, workforce, and livability. It’s also a key city for recruiting younger talent.

While making its chief executive’s life easier probably isn’t No. 1 on the list of priorities for choosing HQ2’s location, all else being equal, it could swing the decision in DC’s favour. As Galloway said in his video of HQ2 predictions, one of the biggest factors may be where Bezos wants to spend more time.

And it’s pretty clear Bezos wants to be close to the nation’s power center.

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