E-commerce, web hosting, and media giant Amazon donated $1.8 million to the Congressional Black Caucus’ (CBC) affiliated foundation and institute last year, according to new lobbying contributions filings.
The majority of the money, $1.7 million, was donated to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that researches how policies affect Black communities, publishes legislative reports, and hosts an annual legislative conference.” The foundation has eight House representatives and CBC members on its board of directors.
The donations are a dramatic increase in Amazon’s prior giving to CBC groups. The company first began donating to CBC affiliates in 2017, with a $25,000 donation to the Institute, and it gave a bit more each year after—$100,000 in 2018, $135,000 in 2019, and $732,500 in 2020. Its increased donations in 2021 came as the company was fighting antitrust bills moving through Congress and defending itself against allegations of illegal anti-union activities.
According to its most recent annual report, CBC’s foundation brought in $8.3 million in contributions and grants in 2020. Donors that gave it more than $1 million that year include Dow Chemical, Target, and Truist Financial.
The remaining $100,000 of Amazon’s 2021 donations to CBC affiliates was given to the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, which says its mission is to “educate today’s voters and train tomorrow’s leaders.” According to tax documents, its main activities are candidate training, policy research, and hosting an annual conference. The institute has three CBC members on its board, including Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House majority whip whose job is to tell members of the Democratic caucus how to vote on bills.
The Congressional Black Caucus is a group of 58 Black Democratic members of the U.S. House and Senate, chaired since January 2021 by Ohio Democrat Joyce Beatty. On its website, it says one of its main goals is “strengthening protections for workers and expanding access to full, fairly-compensated employment.”
Last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a complaint against Amazon alleging that the company illegally threatened, intimidated, and surveilled workers at JFK8, the company’s largest New York City warehouse, who had been trying to start a union. According to Motherboard, the complaint says that Amazon representatives called the organizers “thugs” and said the effort was “futile” because union formation “would never happen” there.
Amazon has also been donating to state-level Black caucuses. According to a Crain’s Chicago Business report from February 2021, Amazon provided seed funding for the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus’ new Social Justice & Public Policy Institute.
Since a 1999 push to unionize customer service representatives by the Communications Workers of America was rebuffed, the commerce giant has consistently pressured its workers against organizing. This week, over 6,000 warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama will begin voting again on forming a union, after the defeat of a high-profile drive last year in which Amazon was accused by the NLRB of improperly pressuring workers to vote against the union.
Black employees and former employees of Amazon have spoken of racism in the company, telling reporters that their complaints of racial bias and microaggressions were dismissed by human resources with no action. Last year, tech journal Recode reported speaking to more than a dozen current and former employees who said Amazon failed to create an environment where Black employees felt welcomed, and that Black Amazon employees face biases at work that harm their personal lives and careers.
Amazon spent more than $20 million on federal lobbying in 2021, according to OpenSecrets. The issue category most marked in its lobbying reports was “Labor, Antitrust, and Workplace,” and it reported lobbying heavily on the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, a bill that would restrict how companies can advertise their own products, such as the AmazonBasics line, against competing products in its search results. The bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month and is awaiting action by the House.
Amazon senior manager of U.S. Public Policy Brandon Webb sits on the CBC Foundation’s corporate advisory council, along with representatives of companies including WalMart, Altria, and Coca-Cola.
The Congressional Black Caucus PAC has received $25,000 from Amazon’s PAC over the years, according to FEC records. The caucus did not respond to a request for comment about its affiliates receiving record donations from Amazon last year as the company ramped-up its hiring while pushing back against employee actions to improve working conditions.
Reached for comment, Vanessa Griddine-Jones, the executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, said, “Monies received by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute from Amazon and any corporation are solely in support of specific CBCI programs.”
Tory Hairston, the vice president of marketing and communications at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, told Sludge, “We recognize that our donors represent a wide range of political and policy perspectives but also underscore that what unites them is their passion for our mission. CBCF takes no position on the regulatory matters of corporations, Congress, or any other government agency.”