Monday, July 29, 2019

How Amazon is buying itself a City

by Rod Williams- Amazon is going to be the big dog in town, it looks like. Or, to use a different analogy, they may become the tail that wags the dog.

Amazon announced in November 2018 that it would open an "Operations Center of Excellence" in Nashville which would employ 5,000 workers who would be paid an average salary of $150,000. The Amazon workers would work out of  two new towers being build in Nashville Yards which is the new development under construction in the northern end of the gulch at the site of the former Southern Baptist complex. Metro Council appropriated $15.2 million to fund infrastructure in Nashville Yards. This has become not that unusual for downtown development. Normally however, developers in commercial developments or housing developments pays for the infrastructure, including water and sewer, roads, drainage and sidewalks, and utilities and then gives the infrastructure to the city when the project is completed.

In addition to the $15.2 million for infrastructure development for Nashville Yards, Council approved paying Amazon $15 million cash to entice the company to move to town. The state provided another $65 million plus $21.7 million in tax breaks.

Amazon is not even here yet and they are making major campaign contributions. Among the mayoral candidates, Amazon is putting their money on David Briley. More than $18,000 of Briley’s campaign donations came from people associated with the Amazon project in Nashville Yards. They are also pouring a lot of money into council races. They are doing this in two ways that we know about; through the "A Better Nashville Political Action Committee" and by direct contributions to candidates. Individuals associated with Amazon may be making contributions but the public would not know of that association.

According to a piece in The Nashville Business Journal,  A Better Nashville is composed of three entities: John Ingram,  Pinnacle Financial Partners, and Inc.. John Ingram is the owner of the new Soccer franchise and is responsible for the deal that put the taxpayers on the hook for the financing of the construction of the soccer stadium and took 10 acres of fairground property and made it available for private development.

As of the end of the Second Quarter reporting period, A Better Nashville has spent more than $48,000 on the city's Aug. 1 election, donating to 11 Metro Council campaigns throughout Nashville. Those campaigns include:
  • DeCosta Hastings (District 2): $5,000
  • Jennifer Gamble (District 3): $7,500
  • Nancy VanReece (District 8): $2,000
  • Colby Sledge (District 17): $2,500
  • John Green (District 18): $3,000
  • Thom Druffel (District 23): $4,000
  • Russ Pulley (District 25): $2,000
  • Jeremy Elrod (District 26): $5,000
  • Robert Nash (District 27): $2,500
  • Cheryl Mayes (District 32): $7,500
  • Terry Bo Bichell (District 34): $7,500
A Better Nashville may have made more contributions since the end of the Second Quarter period.

Amazon has made a number of contributions to council candidates. Some of the contributions from Amazon Incorporated were to the same candidates who received contribution from A Better Nashville PAC.  In some cases the contributions from these two sources make up the bulk of the money a candidate raised. Below is a partial list of the candidates to whom Amazon Inc, made contributions.  I have looked at most first quarter and second quarter campaign finance reports but not all. I just skipped about a quarter of the districts because I did not have a favorite in that race or nothing had happened to spark an interest in the race.  I also may have missed some Amazon contributions when I looked at  financial reports. Also, I have not reviewed the "pre-general" reports that covered the period July 1, through July 31.  So, this list is not a complete list. Also when candidates loan themselves money to finance their campaigns they can then raise money after the election to repay the loan. When candidates lose it is hard to raise the money to repay the loan; when they win, they often can raise the money.  I would bet that council candidates who loaned themselves money and who win will be going to Amazon looking for an after the fact contribution. This is of course all perfectly legal.

Below is the partial list of candidates receiving contributions from Amazon, Inc.
  • Burkley Allen (at-large) $2,000
  • Bob Mendes (at-large) $2,000
  • SheriWeiner (at-large) $2,000
  • DeCosta Hastings, (District 2) $2,000
  • Mina Johnson, (District 23) $1,000
  • Russ Puley, (District 25) $1,000
  • Jeremy Elrod (District 26) $2,000
  • Dave Rosenberg (District 35) $1,000
It is a shame we do not have vibrant press in Nashville than will pour over campaign financial reports and make connections. The above list is very much a partial list.  If anyone else has reviewed campaign finance reports and found names of those receiving Amazon contributions that I missed, please let me know and I will verify and then update.

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