The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

September 18, 2011
Amazon vs. Wal-Mart's costly fight could have cost far more

To get a sense of the stakes involved in the fight over Internet retailing legislation, take a look at the money spent on lobbying in the first half of the year.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, spent $1 million on campaign donations in California and another $533,000 to lobby lawmakers and the governor's office in the first six months of the year.

That's nearly twice the amount it spent on lobbying in all of 2010, and far more than it has spent in any single year in Sacramento.

Please see today's column for more about taxes.

Overall, retailers spent nearly $2.9 million in the first half of 2011. That's almost 50 percent more than the average that retailers spent during the same periods in the prior four years.

The big spending undoubtedly took place in the final days of the legislative session. But third quarter spending reports won't become available for several weeks.

Seattle-based Amazon, a company with $34 billion in annual revenue, has had modest lobbying presence in California.

Still, the $78,000 Amazon spent on direct lobbying of lawmakers in the first half of the year is double what it spent in the first six months of last year.

Amazon found another way to get money into the California political process. The company rarely spends money on campaign efforts.

But after Democrats approved legislation earlier this year to force Internet retailers to collect sales taxes, Amazon shelled out $5 million to place a referendum on the 2012 ballot, and quickly gathered the requisite 800,000-plus signatures.

If Brown signs the legislative compromise, Amazon won't turn in the signatures. As for that $5 million, well, that money is in the pockets of political consultants and signature gatherers and they not giving it back.

Of course, if the referendum went forward, consultants figured, the campaign would have cost $40 million, maybe more.

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About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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