Amazon Putting Campaign Cash a Click Away
One month after the Supreme Court upheld a ban on massive political contributions from corporate America, online retailer Amazon.com plans to become the first U.S. business to unveil a way for the general public to funnel cash to presidential candidates.
Amazon will create a link on its Web site this week that will permit customers to donate directly to presidential campaigns when purchasing books written by or about the candidates on the company’s virtual bookstore.
Since Amazon’s customers — not the company itself — would make the contributions, the plan would not violate the new campaign finance law, according to election lawyers.
Aides from several White House contenders said Amazon worked out the deal with each of the presidential campaigns over the past few weeks with the help of the company’s campaign finance lawyer, Jan Baran of Wiley, Rein & Fielding.
Amazon hopes to roll out the plan on Thursday, just days before the Iowa caucuses.
All costs associated with the one-of-its-kind plan — from establishing the link to processing credit card receipts — will be covered by the presidential campaigns.
Because corporations are prevented from contributing to presidential campaigns, Amazon is prohibited from picking up any costs associated with the service.
“If Amazon used corporate money to fund any aspect of this it would be a problem,” said Bobby Burchfield, an election lawyer with Covington & Burlington. “But if the respective campaign is paying for it, it would be OK.”
Not all of the Democratic campaigns are pleased with Amazon’s plan. Because the online retailer is unveiling the plan so close to the start of the primary season, there is little chance that any candidate will get an infusion of desperately needed campaign cash.
Still, the unique plan could open up yet another avenue for political donations in the post-campaign finance reform era.
Amazon’s move also could encourage other businesses to begin rolling out their own fundraising strategies for the 2004 elections.
Congressional approval of legislation to stem the tide of large corporate contributions had a chilling effect on corporate contributions because risk-adverse companies were wary of becoming poster children for campaign finance abuse.
But now that the Supreme Court has ruled, Republican and Democratic strategists say that businesses are finally starting to open up their checkbooks.
“Businesses are slowly starting to step forward,” said Susan Hirschmann, a Republican lobbyist who heads a fundraising organization called the Leadership Forum that is seeking corporate contributions to support GOP candidates for Congress.
“With the Supreme Court ruling, people understand that [the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act] is the law of the land and they are starting to figure out how to play while staying in compliance with the law,” Hirschmann said.
As a result, many Republican strategists and campaign finance lawyers believe that the new election law will do little to reduce the amount of money in politics.
Instead, they say, corporations and interest groups will find new ways of filtering contributions into campaigns, such as through the Leadership Forum and other so-called 527 fundraising organizations.
“I don’t think there will be one less penny spent this time than last time around, it will just be much harder to track,” Burchfield said.