Why Jeff Bezos's Pledge To Congress On Amazon Smile Means Nothing

Four of the world’s most powerful tech CEOs — Apple’s Tim Cook, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos — came to Capitol Hill, via a live video feed in a highly publicized congressional hearing, to ostensibly defend their respective companies from claims that they are too big and should be broken up. What actually transpired was little more than grandstanding by politicians of both parties, many of whom are funded by Big Tech and thus have zero intention of breaking up these companies.

In this otherwise worthless hearing, one exchange between Bezos and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., stuck out. Gaetz called out Bezos over the company’s reliance on the Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC, as the gatekeeper for the AmazonSmile charitable program. Through AmazonSmile, customers can direct a small percentage of their purchases to a charity of their choice. That choice, however, is limited to charities the SPLC filters.

Gaetz rightfully called out this unholy marriage. Looking right at the richest man in the world, the Florida congressman said: “I am not here accusing you as someone who would ever traffic in hate, but it seems you have empowered people who do. I’m particularly talking about the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

The SPLC is best known for producing an annual hate map in which it supposedly identifies hate groups operating in the United States, but that’s not what it really does. The SPLC uses the list to demonize religious Americans.

By placing faith-based groups such as the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, the Jewish Defense League, and Alliance Defending Freedom alongside antisemites and racists such as the Ku Klux Klan, the hate map smears Americans of faith with guilt by association. It’s sinister, and Bezos knows it. Yet he still allows the SPLC to block these faith-based charities and others from AmazonSmile.

Gaetz continued to press Bezos, stating, “I’m just wondering why you would place your confidence in a group that seems to be so out of step and seems to take mainstream Christian doctrine and label it as hate. … Why would you trust them?”

“I’m going to acknowledge this is an imperfect system,” Bezos relented, backed into a corner. “I would love suggestions on … better or additional sources,” he said.

He would love suggestions? Bezos has received such a suggestion tens of thousands of times this year. I should know. I am responsible for personally sending one to him.

At the Free Enterprise Project, we filed a shareholder resolution directly addressing Amazon’s partnership with the SPLC. Bezos is well aware of the proposal, as it was voted on at Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting. It highlighted the inherent risks of engaging in such outright bigotry and viewpoint discrimination. Any sober assessment of our resolution would have caused Amazon to drop the SPLC.

Furthermore, we engaged the public and started a petition drive to support our shareholder proposal. We sent that petition to each member of Amazon’s board — which Bezos chairs — tens of thousands of times. Our petition concluded with a suggestion as to how Amazon should operate its Smile program.

It stated: “Therefore, we the undersigned request and require that The AmazonSmile Foundation bring eligibility determinations in-house, publish a fair and clear set of standards for eligibility, and end the gatekeeper role of the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

This makes perfect sense. It’s Amazon’s money. The program has doled out more than $150 million dollars. Why should it outsource this awesome responsibility to any outside organization, much less to a discredited anti-religious one?

If Amazon employees can decide which products are permitted to be sold on its massive website, surely they can be tasked with determining which charities are peddling in hate versus those simply preaching religious values. Bezos knows this, and despite his claim that he “would love suggestions,” he knows he’s already gotten them.

Gaetz said Amazon should “divorce [itself] from the SPLC.” Yes, it should.

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