Today’s annual meeting of Amazon.com investors turned political as a representative of the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Free Enterprise Project (FEP) questioned CEO Jeff Bezos over the company’s strong opposition to President Trump’s executive orders on immigration and travel.
“As an investor advocate, our message is quite simple: taking overtly political positions on contentious, evenly-divided issues is a major risk for publicly-traded companies,” said National Center General Counsel and FEP Director Justin Danhof, Esq., who attended today’s meeting in Seattle and personally questioned Bezos. “Amazon executives made a clear choice to oppose one of President Trump’s top political priorities, and they need to realize such actions are viewed by Trump supporters through a political prism. If Amazon is considered anti-Trump, it will almost certainly harm the company’s long-term investors.”
At the meeting, Danhof stated:
Amazon publicly opposed President Trump’s first executive order on immigration. The New York Post reported Amazon took “a victory lap for its role in halting Trump’s travel ban” after that initial order was halted by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The company also signed a legal brief opposing Trump’s second executive order on immigration and travel.
Amazon risks reputational harm and consumer backlash for this stance. Polling indicates nearly half of registered voters support Trump’s actions on immigration. After Starbucks similarly came out against Trump’s proposed travel restrictions, Business Insider reported that “Starbucks’ brand ha[d] taken a beating.”
And Trump’s ban is not the first of its kind. In 2011, after discovering two al-Qaeda members with links to Iraq operating in Kentucky, ABC News reported “the State Department stopped processing Iraq refugees for six months. . . even for many who had heroically helped U.S. forces as interpreters and intelligence assets.” One Iraqi refugee who aided U.S. troops was assassinated while banned from entry by former President Barack Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. . . it doesn’t appear Amazon said or did anything regarding the Obama-Clinton travel ban.
These examples raise a few quick questions. First of all, Mr. Bezos, do you see any potential downside for Amazon related to the company’s opposition to the President, or from the Washington Post‘s anti-Trump bias? Current and potential Amazon customers undoubtedly include Trump fans. Are you concerned they may reject Amazon as they see the company opposes a President and policies they support? And why were you willing to risk Amazon’s reputation by attacking President Trump’s executive order when it seems you lacked the courage to speak out against the Obama-Clinton travel ban?
Danhof’s full question at today’s Amazon meeting, as prepared for delivery, is available here.
“In response to our question, Bezos essentially claimed Amazon does not take political positions; it instead takes policy positions. While this may be the company’s aim, it is often a distinction without a difference. Regardless of Amazon’s intentions, the company is rightfully viewed as taking a political position against President Trump’s immigration reform efforts,” Danhof said. “If Amazon was truly just taking a principled policy position, it would have also opposed the 2011 Obama-Clinton travel ban we highlighted in the question we presented at the shareholder meeting. But Bezos ducked that part of the question. Interestingly, former Obama spokesman Jay Carney – who is now a senior vice president with Amazon – turned around from his front-row seat when I mentioned the Obama-Clinton travel ban. It clearly got his attention.”
“I get the impression Bezos understands the risk Amazon faces in becoming overtly political,” added Danhof. “He chose to answer our question diplomatically rather than double-down on any anti-Trump rhetoric. He may realize that the company’s actions ? and his own ? have placed Amazon in a liberal-leaning light. In the long-term, that would be bad for investors.”
This was the second time this year that a National Center representative asked a question of this nature at a company’s shareholder meeting. Earlier this year, also in Seattle, Danhof questioned outgoing Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz about that company’s opposition to Trump’s travel ban. Danhof’s confrontation with Schultz garnered significant national media attention, with stories appearing in the Bezos-owned Washington Post, Business Insider, CNN and The Hill among many others.
Launched in 2007, the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Free Enterprise Project is the nation’s preeminent free-market activist group – focusing on shareholder activism and the confluence of big government and big business. Since 2014, National Center representatives have participated in nearly 100 shareholder meetings to advance free-market ideals in the areas of health care, energy, taxes, subsidies, regulations, religious freedom, food policies, media bias, gun rights, workers’ rights and many other important public policy issues. This is the sixteenth shareholder meeting the FEP has attended in 2017.
The National Center‘s Free Enterprise Project activism has yielded a tremendous return on investment:
- FEP‘s highly-publicized questioning of support for the Clinton Foundation by Boeing and General Electric helped trigger an FBI investigation of the Clinton Foundation‘s activities that dominated the 2016 presidential campaign.
- FEP inquiries prompted Facebook to address political bias against conservatives in social media.
- Company executives acknowledged media bias at ABC News (Disney), the Washington Post and CNN (Time Warner) in response to FEP‘s challenges, which helped to bring about more objective reporting and more balanced political representation.
- FEP‘s “Employee Conscience Protection Project“ strengthened protections for the political beliefs and activities of over five million workers at 13 major U.S. corporations.
So far in 2017, the FEP has been featured in media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Variety, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Breitbart, WorldNetDaily, Drudge Report, Business Insider, CNET, National Public Radio, American Family Radio and SiriusXM. In 2016, the FEP was also featured in the Washington Times, the Fox News Channel’s “Cavuto,” the Financial Times, Crain’s Chicago Business, the Hollywood Reporter, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Newsmax, the Daily Caller, Lifezette, the Seattle Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune among many others. The Free Enterprise Project was also featured in Wall Street Journal writer Kimberley Strassel‘s 2016 book The Intimidation Game: How the Left is Silencing Free Speech (Hachette Book Group).
The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, less than four percent from foundations and less than two percent from corporations. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 60,000 active recent contributors. Sign up for email updates here. Follow us on Twitter at @NationalCenter for general announcements. To be alerted to upcoming media appearances by National Center staff, follow our media appearances Twitter account at @NCPPRMedia.
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