Prosecute Amazon for Intimidating a Public Servant

Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Amazon is intimidating a public servant by claiming they’ll pause construction depending on how and when the City Council votes on the proposed tax to fund homeless services. Read our letter below to Attorney General Bob Ferguson asking him to prosecute Amazon to the fullest extent of the law for this crime. Then add your name to the letter & share widely!



May 8, 2018

Re: RCW 9A.76.180 - Intimidating a public servant
Amazon.com

Dear Attorney General Ferguson:

As you know, on May 2nd, a top Amazon executive stated the company was “putting a pause” on expansion in Seattle in an attempt to influence the city council to reject a proposed $0.26/hour tax on the largest companies in the city to address our housing and homelessness crisis. This was a clear threat by Amazon to do substantial harm to the business and financial condition of the city of Seattle if public officials did not act as they demanded.

It’s the sort of thing you might expect from a subprime mob boss lording it over a company town — and that’s not just a metaphor.

It’s a felony under state law to threaten substantial harm to the business or financial condition of any person, corporation or unincorporated association in an attempt to influence the vote or any other official action of a public servant. We believe there is abundant evidence Amazon has broken that law, and we urge you to investigate and prosecute Amazon for this serious crime.

The law is clear:

RCW 9A.76.180 - Intimidating a public servant states that “a person is guilty of intimidating a public servant if, by use of a threat, he or she attempts to influence a public servant's vote, opinion, decision, or other official action as a public servant.” This is categorized as a Class B felony.

“Threat” is defined in RCW 9A.04.110 (28)(j) as “to communicate, directly or indirectly the intent... to harm substantially the person threatened or another with respect to his or her health, safety, business, financial condition, or personal relationships.”

“Person” is defined in RCW 9A.04.110(17) as including corporations, which means that this law protects municipal corporations such as the City of Seattle.  

The facts are evident:

1) On Wednesday May 2nd, a key Amazon corporate official stated that the company had “paused” construction until the City Council vote on a progressive tax on the largest businesses in the city to fund services for homeless people. More specifically, Vice President Drew Herdener told a Seattle Times editorial writer on the morning of a city council hearing on the proposal that: “pending the outcome of the head-tax vote by City Council, Amazon has paused all construction planning on our Block 18 project in downtown Seattle and is evaluating options to sublease all space in our recently leased Rainier Square building.” There is certainly reason to be skeptical about this “pause” — Amazon continues to hire at a rapid clip, with more than 5,000 jobs listed as open in Seattle as of May 8th. However, it only needs to be established that the threat was intended to be seen as credible enough to be part of an attempt to influence the decisions of a public servant, not that it in fact is credible.

2) Amazon has a motive: a direct financial interest in the outcome of the City Council vote. In its current form, the progressive tax on the largest businesses in the city would deliver an estimated $20 million from Amazon’s enormous corporate treasury to services for homeless people. This is certainly a tiny scale of dollars for a company owned by the richest person in the world, a company which took in $5.6 billion in annual profit, paid a 0% corporate federal income tax rate, and recently received a $789 million tax cut from the Federal government. However, the company has a clear interest in using this type of threat to intimidate both the current and future locations of its corporate offices to extract additional funds and other economic concessions from them. This is the well-known criminal logic of a mob boss.

3) Because the city budget depends in part on construction-related revenue, Amazon’s “pause” was immediately and universally interpreted by politicians, journalists, and the public at large as a threat to inflict substantial harm on the business and financial conditions of the city, as well as on homeless individuals in need of services. There is certainly a possibility that the full array of impacts of any actual Amazon “pause” could also include reduced pressure on housing prices and increased opportunity for other tech companies to grow — and therefore fewer people living on the streets and a stronger and more diversified economy. However, in order to qualify as a criminal threat, the statements at issue do not need to be a threat to take action that would necessarily cause harm, they need only be statements of an intent to take action that itself reveals an intent to inflict that injury.  

These facts add up to a clear violation of RCW 9A.76.180: Amazon threatened to harm substantially the business and financial condition of the corporate person of the city of Seattle in order to attempt to influence the decision of the public servants who serve on the Seattle city council.

The consequences should be severe:

We know that corporations owned by the richest people in the world typically oppose progressive taxes. And we have come to expect that corporate officials and their lobby groups will routinely issue misleading information and make all kinds of wrong predictions about the impacts of progressive moves by public officials. While the Chicken Little routine can be tedious, it’s not a felony.

Issuing mob-like threats to cause harm in order to influence the votes of elected officials is a different matter. The clumsy nature of Amazon’s attempted power play may make it less politically effective, but it does not make it less criminal.

We urge you to prosecute Amazon for the felony of Intimidating a Public Servant to the fullest extent of the law.

Sincerely,
The members and supporters of Working Washington

Sponsored by

To: Attorney General Bob Ferguson
From: [Your Name]

Amazon is intimidating a public servant by claiming they’ll pause construction depending on how and when the City Council votes on the proposed tax to fund homeless services. Intimidating a public servant is illegal under RCW 9A.76.180. We urge you to prosecute Amazon for the felony of Intimidating a Public Servant to the fullest extent of the law.