With his move to Amazon, former White House press secretary Jay Carney becomes the latest political operative to use the executive branch as a stepping stone to Silicon Valley. In Amazon, Carney is joining one of the world’s most powerful retailers, though if the recent past is any indication it will use Carney to fulfill aspirations that go well beyond selling books and gadgets.
After serving under President Obama as White House press secretary from 2011 to 2014, Carney will now report directly to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Politico reported Thursday. The hire “brings the e-commerce giant’s worldwide public relations and public policy shops into one department under Carney,” the site noted. He starts at Amazon Monday. The announcement comes after ex-Obama campaign manager David Plouffe joined Uber, following in the footsteps of other administration officials who've moved to roles where they seek support from key lawmakers and agency chiefs on a range of issues that affect the tech industry.
With Amazon, Carney could have his hands full.
Bezos famously declared in 2013 that the retailer hopes to cut out the middle man and start delivering its own packages via drone by 2015, but the plan faces regulatory hurdles. The company has also been vocal in the debate over whether online retailers should have to collect taxes and lobbied Congress to reduce the tax rate for money from overseas orders, while also involving itself in a number of battles against state and federal regulations.
Carney is the personification of Amazon’s growing efforts to get its way in Washington. The company spent $928,000 on lobbying in 2003. By 2014, the total had grown to $4.9 million, according to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks political spending.
Carney’s hiring is also evidence that while bipartisan cooperation is at an historic low in Washington, that tension doesn’t spill over into the corporate world. Current Amazon lobbyists include former Senate majority leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, and former senator John Breaux, a Democrat from Louisiana.
Compare Amazon’s figures to the $16.83 million Google spent on lobbying in 2014, more than the $15.8 million it spent in 2013 but less than 2012’s figure of $18.2 million.
Apple spent $4.11 million on lobbying in 2014, with OpenSecrets also finding that 31 of 38 Apple lobbyists previously held posts in government positions. eBay spent $1.56 million to lobby lawmakers in 2014. How much Amazon will pay Carney wasn’t immediately clear, but whatever the figure is, it may be worth it. The Federal Aviation Administration issued new rules earlier this month requiring drone operators to pilot their craft only within their line of sight, effectively nixing any immediate delivery plans Bezos has been working on. Amazon is supporting efforts to relax those rules.
Amazon’s struggles were also on display when the company supported the Marketplace Fairness Act, a failed bill that would have forced e-commerce companies to collect Internet sales tax. Amazon initially opposed the bill but changed its stance in part because it already had to pay sales taxes in many states, the result of another failed political battle. Amazon is also under scrutiny in Europe, where regulators are questioning its tax arrangements with Luxembourg.