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A ‘Grass Roots’ Campaign to Take Down Amazon Is Funded by Amazon’s Biggest Rivals - WSJ
Sept. 20, 2019 | WSJ | By James V. Grimaldi.

Walmart, Oracle and mall owner Simon Property Group are secret funders behind a nonprofit that has been highly critical of the e-commerce giant

About 18 months ago a new nonprofit group called Free and Fair Markets Initiative launched a national campaign criticizing the business practices of one powerful company: Amazon.com Inc. AMZN -1.50%

Free and Fair Markets accused Amazon of stifling competition and innovation, inhibiting consumer choice, gorging on government subsidies, endangering its warehouse workers and exposing consumer data to privacy breaches. It claimed to have grass-roots support from average citizens across the U.S, citing a labor union, a Boston management professor and a California businessman.

What the group did not say is that it received backing from some of Amazon’s chief corporate rivals. They include shopping mall owner Simon Property Group Inc., SPG 0.27% retailer Walmart Inc. WMT -0.11% and software giant Oracle Corp. ORCL 0.19% , according to people involved with and briefed on the project. Simon Property is fighting to keep shoppers who now prefer to buy what they need on Amazon; Walmart is competing with Amazon over retail sales; and Oracle is battling Amazon over a $10 billion Pentagon cloud-computing contract.

The grass-roots support cited by the group was also not what it appeared to be. The labor union says it was listed as a member of the group without permission and says a document purporting to show that it gave permission has a forged signature. The Boston professor says the group, with his permission, ghost-wrote an op-ed for him about Amazon but that he didn’t know he would be named as a member. The California businessman was dead for months before his name was removed from the group’s website this year.

Free and Fair Markets, or FFMI, declined to reveal its funders or disclose if it has directors or a chief executive.

“The bottom line is that FFMI is focusing on the substantive issues and putting a spotlight on the way companies like Amazon undermine the public good—something that media outlets, activists, and politicians in both parties are also doing with increasing frequency,” it said in a statement in response to questions from The Wall Street Journal. “If Amazon can not take the heat then it should stay out of the kitchen.”

The creation of a group aimed solely at Amazon is an indication of the degree to which competing companies have coalesced to counter the growing and accumulated power of Amazon and how far competitors are increasingly willing to go to counter-strike. Lobbyists that exaggerate the extent of their grass-roots support—a practice known as “AstroTurf lobbying”—are common in Washington, but it is rare for a nonprofit group to be created for the sole purpose of going after a single firm.

Amazon is facing additional opaque opposition as well, with websites and articles popping up portraying the software giant as the Evil Empire. The website Monopolyamazon.com, which does not disclose who is behind it and registered its web address anonymously, includes a handful of articles calling on the Defense Department to reject Amazon’s bid for a $10 billion cloud-computing contract. For months last year, an anti-Amazon dossier circulated in Washington alleging conflicts of interest in the Pentagon procurement process and a chart from the document later reached President Trump before he asked for a review of the Amazon bid.

Free and Fair Markets is run by a strategic communications firm, Marathon Strategies, that works for large corporations, including Amazon rivals. Marathon founder Phil Singer is a veteran political operative who has worked as a top aide to prominent Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and on Hillary Clinton ’s 2008 presidential campaign.

In a statement, Mr. Singer defended the group. “FFMI is not obligated to disclose its donors and it does not,” Mr. Singer said.

Marathon initially asked for a fee of $250,000 per company to fund the anti-Amazon group, according to a person at one of the companies approached. Among those invited to fund the group but declined were a trade association that includes members who compete with Amazon, and International Business Machines Corp. , according to people familiar with the contacts. IBM, which declined to comment, previously was a client of Marathon.

In a statement, Amazon said, “The Free & Fair Markets Initiative appears to be little more than a well-oiled front group run by a high-priced public affairs firm and funded by self-interested parties with the sole objective of spreading misinformation about Amazon.”

Simon Property, the world’s largest mall landlord, declined to comment. Simon does not have any brick-and-mortar Amazon stores in its roughly 200 malls, outlets and open-air centers in the U.S., whereas its peers with smaller portfolios count multiple Amazon stores in theirs. The Indianapolis-based landlord recently launched its own online shopping platform, Shoppremiumoutlets.com.

Walmart funds the organization indirectly by paying an intermediary that pays for Free and Fair Markets, according to sources familiar with the arrangement. Walmart is a client of Marathon.

Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove said, “We are not financial supporters of the FFMI but we share concerns about issues they have raised.” Mr. Hargrove declined to comment further.

The group’s aim is to sully Amazon’s image on competition, data-security and workplace issues, while creating a sense of grass-roots support for increased government regulatory and antitrust enforcement, according to people familiar with the campaign.

Free and Fair Markets has lobbied the government for legislation and investigations of Amazon, sent dozens of letters and reports to Congress and staff, according to congressional staffers, published scores of op-eds in local and online media and tweeted hundreds of social media posts blasting Amazon.

Over the past year, many of the actions advocated by the group have gained traction. Amazon has come under increasing antitrust scrutiny from the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission, states attorneys general and the European Union. In New York, Amazon backed out of plans to open a second headquarters in Long Island City after facing political opposition. Free and Fair Markets campaigned against government subsidies to support the site and tweeted more than 300 times on the topic.

Oracle provided financial support as part of an all-out strategy to stop Amazon from getting a $10 billion mega-contract to handle cloud computing for the Defense Department. The Pentagon eliminated Oracle as a bidder in the first round. Kenneth Glueck, who runs Oracle’s office in Washington, confirmed that the computer technology firm has contributed to the effort.

A goal of the organization was achieved in July when President Trump said he wanted to conduct a review of the contract. In August, the secretary of defense said he was investigating conflict-of-interest allegations surrounding the $10 billion contract known as Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI. At the urging of President Trump, the bid award has been put on hold during the review.

Mr. Trump, a frequent critic of Amazon, cited complaints about the project from several of Amazon’s competitors, which in addition to Oracle included IBM and Microsoft Corp. , saying he had heard the contract “wasn’t competitively bid.” The contract has not been awarded and Microsoft remains one of the two remaining bidders.

Though Free and Fair Markets has contacted members of Congress and the administration, it has not registered as a lobbying organization. Such groups are required to file with Congress if more than 20% of their work involves lobbying. Marathon said it complies with lobby disclosure rules.

None of the articles notes that Mr. Engel’s group is funded by rivals of Amazon.

A spokeswoman for The Hill said the publication was unaware of the funding sources and failure to disclose such payments violates a standard written agreement all op-ed writers are required to sign.

Sandy Shea, managing editor of opinion for the Inquirer’s parent company, the Philadelphia Media Network, said, “We aren’t equipped to investigate the makeup or structure of a nonprofit that submits a piece.”

Bill Zeiser, RealClearPolicy editor, said RealClearMedia publishes “commentary on politics and public policy from a wide array of sources. These submissions are assessed on their editorial merits.”

Representatives of the Post-Gazette and Chronicle did not respond to emails.

In an interview earlier this year, Mr. Engel said the motive of the group was not to promote the views of Amazon’s rivals. He said Amazon has been the only target because its business tactics run counter to the group’s goal of free and fair markets. “The one organization that feels it stands above that is Amazon,” Mr. Engel said.

Marathon did not make Mr. Engel available for comment a second time after the Journal determined that rivals were funding the group.

Mr. Engel and his group have been quoted in publications, including once each in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. None said who funded the group.

One article about Free and Fair Markets was commissioned by Marathon.

Last October, an Iowa writer and consultant, Jeff Patch, published an article on RealClearPolicy.com, a news website known for political coverage, about a report by Free and Fair Markets critical of Amazon’s record of hiring and firing women. “Many [women] were fired after Amazon concocted pretexts for their terminations,” Mr. Patch wrote.

Mr. Patch, who has worked as a journalist and a staffer for a Republican congressman and conservative think tanks, did not disclose in his article at the time that he was a paid contractor for Marathon.

Bank statements and invoices reviewed by the Journal show that Mr. Patch billed Marathon, and was paid thousands of dollars… [more]
Amazon  clandestine  contra-Amazon  countermeasures  counternarratives  dark_side  e-commerce  grass-roots  lobbying  lobbyists  nonprofit  Oracle  Simon_Properties  sophisticated  Wal-Mart 
4 weeks ago by jerryking
America’s Biggest Supermarket Company Struggles With Online Grocery Upheaval
April 21, 2019 | WSJ | By Heather Haddon.

Kroger adjusts operations and invests in technology to hang on to customers who avoid stores; ‘we’ve got to get our butts in gear
Amazon  bricks-and-mortar  BOPIS  CDO  cultural_clash  delivery_services  digital_strategies  disruption  e-commerce  e-grocery  grocery  IBM  Instacart  Jet  Kroger  Microsoft  millennials  Ocado  Oracle  pilot_programs  post-deal_integration  retailers  same-day  Shipt  start_ups  supermarkets  Vitacost  Wal-Mart  Whole_Foods 
april 2019 by jerryking
Elephant in the Room to Weigh on Growth for Oracle, Teradata - WSJ.com
August 18, 2013 |WSJ| By ROLFE WINKLER

Elephant in the Room to Weigh on Growth for
Oracle  Teradata  Hadoop  massive_data_sets  Cloudera  MapReduce 
august 2013 by jerryking
Web-Based Software Services Take Hold - WSJ.com
May 15, 2007 | WSJ |By VAUHINI VARA.
Web-Based Software Services Take Hold
Accounting Quirk, Fewer Hassles, Lower Costs Lure Businesses to Sector
SaaS  SAP  Oracle  Salesforce 
january 2013 by jerryking
Start-Ups Emerge as Tech Vendors of Choice - WSJ.com
August 23, 2012 | WSJ | by BEN WORTHEN.

A new crop of business-focused tech companies such as Splunk Inc. SPLK -0.23% and Palo Alto Networks Inc. PANW +0.98% have recently made successful public-market debuts, fueled by strong revenue growth.

Old-line tech vendors have taken notice. Microsoft in July paid $1.2 billion for Yammer Inc., which makes social-networking tools for businesses. IBM, Oracle and SAP AG SAP.XE +0.60% have all spent billions for younger online software makers. And H-P executives talk about reinventing the company by expanding into three hot businesses that aren't among its main ones today.

"That is a challenge to big companies to show that we can innovate," said Sanjay Poonen, president of global solutions at SAP.
Ben_Worthen  start_ups  Oracle  HP  CIOs  Box  large_companies 
august 2012 by jerryking
Rodent Regatta: And Then, There Were A Lot Fewer
11 April 2003

Everybody’s talking about consolidation in the I.T. business. This week Larry Ellison of Oracle
rules_of_the_game  Larry_Ellison  Oracle  ksfs  start_ups  advice 
may 2012 by jerryking
Mark Hurd Is Still Intense - NYTimes.com
October 4, 2011, 7:57 pm
Mark Hurd Is Still Intense
By QUENTIN HARDY
Holding up an Apple iPhone, Mr. Hurd states, “This is a Cray supercomputer.” It has the same processing power as that machine did in 1986 or 1987. “Over the next five years, three billion people will be mobile. There will be 65 zettabytes of data,” he says. (A zettabyte is about one million terabytes, or one sextillion — 10 followed by 20 zeros — bytes.) “The changes are real. Are people going to be doing more e-commerce? Yes. Are people going to be doing more social networking? Yes. Are people going to be more mobile? Yes. Do I think the corporate world is prepared? No.”
Mark_Hurd  Oracle  information_overload 
october 2011 by jerryking
Business: Mr Ellison helps himself;
Computing
Anonymous. The Economist. London: Apr 25, 2009. Vol. 391, Iss. 8628; pg.
65
The industry is, in other words, going back to its past, when it was
dominated by a few integrated companies that tried to do it all.

This is, in part, a consequence of the industry's maturity: to keep
growing, firms have to invade each other's markets. In addition,
customers increasingly prefer to buy integrated systems from one vendor,
rather than doing the plumbing themselves.
ProQuest  Oracle  mergers_&_acquisitions  M&A  consolidation  mature_industries 
march 2011 by jerryking
Gap Widens Between Tech Richest and the Rest - WSJ.com
MARCH 16, 2010 | Wall Street Journal | Ben WORTHEN. A handful
of cash-rich companies are consolidating power in the technology
industry, using their wealth to expand into new businesses and making it
harder for small and midsize competitors to break through. Why the
industry is evolving this way is rooted in balance sheets. Over the past
2 years, Apple Inc., Oracle Corp., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and 6
other large tech companies have generated $68.5 billion in new cash,
compared with just $13.5 billion for the other 65 tech companies in the
S&P 500 Index combined. Because of their massive cash accumulation,
these companies can afford to take risks that smaller companies can't
at a time when the economy remains fragile. The result is a bifurcated
tech landscape, says Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at MIT's Sloan
School of Management.
Apple  barbell_effect  Ben_Worthen  Big_Tech  cash  cash_reserves  consolidation  Erik_Brynjolfsson  Fortune_500  Google  large_companies  market_power  Microsoft  new_businesses  Oracle  risk-taking  small_business  start_ups  trends  winner-take-all 
march 2010 by jerryking
Service Software Making Inroads
Nov 18, 2009 | Wall Street Journal | by Jessica
Hodgson.On-demand software companies, like Salesforce.com Inc. and
Netsuite Inc., are benefiting from the recession, grabbing new corporate
customers faster than their traditional software competitors.

Revenue increased by more than 10% at each of the three largest
on-demand software companies by market capitalization in the last
earnings period.

By comparison, Oracle Corp. and SAP AG, the world's largest on-site
business software makers, posted single-digit declines. Market watchers
say more gains are likely as companies become familiar and comfortable
with the software.
SaaS  Freshbooks  Salesforce  oracle  SAP 
november 2009 by jerryking
Tech Giants Ramp Up Their Online Offerings - WSJ.com
JUNE 22, 2009 | Wall Street Journal | by BEN WORTHEN and JUSTIN SCHECK.
SaaS  HP  Oracle  business_models  transitions  e-commerce 
june 2009 by jerryking

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