jerryking + grass-roots   11

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
The Women Who Met Hillary, and Spotted a Future Political Star - The New York Times
DEC. 24, 2016 | NYT | By SUSAN DOMINUS.

Hilary Clinton started changing American political culture for women as far back as the early 1970s — not through a candidacy of her own, but through a series of small, but crucial, networking moves.

The number of women who laboured in basement meetings, in consciousness-raising groups, in boardrooms, in unions, in news organizations and in their own kitchens to expand possibilities for women are far too many to count....Prominent among those who did were a few key friends of Mrs. Clinton whom she helped find paths to the cause, including a Texan political player named Betsey Wright....I’m ushered in to the National League of Women Voters headquarters, and Hillary tells them, ‘This can be your youth director.’”

Ms. Piercy, representing the league, went on to attend the Republican and Democratic conventions in 1972, a key inflection point for female activists. “We realized that the only way we could be accepted as equals was to be in office,” she said. “But the parties were not interested in cultivating women. So we realized we would have to train them ourselves.”...while Mrs. Clinton was a law student supporting the presidential candidate Senator George McGovern in San Antonio, she met Ms. Wright, the person she thought could galvanize and prepare potential female candidates.....Ms. Wright had previously worked on individual women’s campaigns. Yet it was Mrs. Clinton who suggested that Ms. Wright move to Washington to spread her expertise, by joining Ms. Piercy and Ms. Griffith to work for what would become known as the National Women’s Education Fund, an unofficial training arm of the National Women’s Political Caucus, with no formal affiliation. “Hillary was saying they really did need to get somebody who understood local races,” Ms. Wright said. “And she strongly urged me to go.”....Wright created seminars and training sessions that taught women how to maneuver within the political process.

She also formed a powerful partnership with Ruth Mandel, who had recently created the pioneering Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. It was not just that they needed to train women, Ms. Mandel said; they needed to “help women overcome their own resistance to gaining political power in their own right.”...Wright knew that revolutions start with pragmatics: She created a training manual that the Education Fund and the Political Caucus relied on heavily for years, a guidebook that broke down the logistics of opinion polling, reaching the news media and recruiting a staff. The training sessions offered advice on every aspect of campaigning, including details specific to women.
Hillary_Clinton  politics  political_campaigns  discipline  political_infrastructure  institutions  politicians  institution-building  women  networking  training  consciousness-raising  grass-roots  inflection_points 
january 2017 by jerryking
How Torontonians can get their hands dirty and improve their own parks
Mar. 29 2013 | The Globe and Mail | IAN MERRINGER.

The key, he says, is for residents to play a role in day-to-day park life – to organize, and perhaps run, the sorts of events and programs that should be animating their patches of ground.

Four weeks ago, this do-it-yourself model got a big boost when the W. Garfield Weston Foundation announced a grant of $5-million over three years to spur grassroots initiatives improving Toronto parks. The money bolsters an effort that has already been a runaway success. In those two years, the number of organized citizens groups – “Friends of” this or that park – has doubled from 40 to roughly 80.

In an era when all levels of government are pleading poverty and reducing services, Mr. Harvey’s Park People has hit upon a working method of do-it-yourself community activism: engaged volunteers seeking permission to do things on their own. This approach of co-operating with bureaucracy to get results could serve as a model for the future of advocacy in Toronto.
Toronto  parks  DIY  volunteering  community  community_support  activism  engaged_citizenry  bureaucracies  grass-roots 
march 2013 by jerryking
Can Museums Help Make Cities More Intelligent?
June 8, 2011 | Center for the Future of Museums |

[L]istening to awesome speakers explore the potential for such systems of ubiquitous, networked data to transform the urban landscape.

Curator Susan Piedmont-Palladino. Susan identified museums’ roles in urban design as provoking active curiosity and increasing “urban literacy,” thereby inspiring people to take action...Here are some interesting nuggets I took away from the day:
(1) Access to data can shift power to the people
Many speakers acknowledged the troubling potential for governments to monitor (and misuse) such rich troves of data on peoples’ movement and activities. However, Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, pointed out that the “ground up” use of technology enables citizens to band together to prevent government abuse. As an example of ground up citizen tech, she pointed to to Map Kibera, which enables Nairobi slum dwellers (aka “informal occupants”) to create a digital map of the informal economy and residential patterns. Prior to this, the Kenyan government did not recognize or gather data on the slum, depriving its residents of political recognition and services. What issues in your museum’s community might benefit from citizen use of data, and how might a museum help people access and interpret this information?

(2) The future of digital data rights. Caesar McDowell, professor of the Practice of Community Development at MIT, approached data privacy from another angle, proposing creating a Personal Digital Commons, controlling the rights that automatically accrue to data collected via social media. You could apply one of four licenses to the data collected by Facebook, LinkedIn and their ilk: free use; limited negotiated use; collective community use (use of aggregated data for community benefit); or no use. What data does your museum collect from users of your digital platforms, and what options do you give them for controlling how you use this information?

(3) How digital devices influence use of public space
I’ve heard many folks angst over how the use of smart phones, tablets etc. in museums will affect the experience.
museums  cities  urban  networks  data  grass-roots  Nairobi  informal_economy  sense-making  public_spaces  smart_cities  interpretation  engaged_citizenry  deprivations 
december 2012 by jerryking
How Reform changed our system
JUNE 1, 2007 | G&M | by PRESTON MANNING.

It is the job of a conservative party - in a minority situation, with a leader who (contrary to the common perception) tends to be more cautious and pragmatic than ideological - to target and win the support of the median voter. And it is the job of the conservative movement - the think tanks, public intellectuals, interest groups, and communications vehicles - to move that median voter onto more conservative ground.

In the 21st century, finding the right division between movement and party - something Reformers wrestled with for 10 years - will be a key determinant of political success.
Preston_Manning  Stephen_Harper  Conservative_Party  social_movements  grass-roots  interest_groups  think_tanks 
september 2012 by jerryking
Wiring the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy - New York Times
By Matt Bai
Published: July 25, 2004 (look at Preston Manning links)

The presentation itself, a collection of about 40 slides titled ''The Conservative Message Machine's Money Matrix,'' essentially makes the case that a handful of families -- Scaife, Bradley, Olin, Coors and others -- laid the foundation for a $300 million network of policy centers, advocacy groups and media outlets that now wield great influence over the national agenda. The network, as Stein diagrams it, includes scores of powerful organizations -- most of them with bland names like the State Policy Network and the Leadership Institute -- that he says train young leaders and lawmakers and promote policy ideas on the national and local level. These groups are, in turn, linked to a massive message apparatus, into which Stein lumps everything from Fox News and the Wall Street Journal op-ed page to Pat Robertson's ''700 Club.'' And all of this, he contends, is underwritten by some 200 ''anchor donors.'' ''This is perhaps the most potent, independent institutionalized apparatus ever assembled in a democracy to promote one belief system,'' he said.
advocacy  belief_systems  conservatism  Democrats  discipline  donors  Fox_News  George_Soros  GOP  grass-roots  high_net_worth  ideas  ideologies  institutions  left-wing  Matt_Bai  messaging  moguls  political_infrastructure  politicians  right-wing  social_movements  think_tanks  training_programs 
may 2012 by jerryking
Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves: Amazon.ca: Adam Hochschild: Books
In 1787, 12 men met in a print shop in England to begin planning an antislavery campaign. It would eventually take 50 years for the campaign to accomplish its goal, but it would succeed in ending slavery in the largest empire on earth and would forge what would later become the standard means of civic protests in democratic societies, including petitions, boycotts, and grassroots political movements. The incredible cast of individuals who fought for abolition includes Olaudah Equiano, an ex-slave whose memoir and accomplishments made him famous and helped subvert the arguments that blacks were uncivilized, and Thomas Clarkson, the intrepid organizer and activist who chronicled the movement and mobilized supporters. Hochschild also recounts the complicated social and economic tensions at work, such as the fact that Britons who faced being pressed into involuntary naval service had sympathy for slaves being abducted from Africa, as factors in Britain's position on slavery.
abolition  abolitionists  activism  Amazon  books  boycotts  civic_protests  emancipation  grass-roots  petitions  protests  protest_movements  slavery 
march 2012 by jerryking
The rise of the grassroots movements - The Globe and Mail
Feb. 24, 2011 | G&M |PRESTON MANNING. At a time when
support for traditional parties is diminishing worldwide, support for
bottom-up socio-economic movements with political agendas is on the rise
and becoming increasingly easy to organize through the use of social
netwkng tools...What roles can the movements play in revitalizing our
democratic sys.? (1) mobilize public opinion and support to raise
specific issues higher on the public agenda – high enough that parties
are obliged to respond. (2) be able to alter their positions to meet
changing conditions more easily and quickly than parties, especially
governing parties. (3) principled parties need their own philosophically
compatible “movements” to sustain and enrich them because modern
parties have become primarily mktg. mechanisms for fighting elections.
They do little development of their own intellectual capital--depending
on others – think tanks, academics, interest groups and the civil
service, if they’re a governing party.
grass-roots  social_movements  Preston_Manning  responsiveness  think_tanks  bottom-up  intellectual_capital  political_parties 
march 2011 by jerryking
Food - Field Report - Plow Shares - NYTimes.com
February 24, 2010 | New York Times | By CHRISTINE MUHLKE. The
Crop Mob, a monthly word-of-mouth (and -Web) event in which landless
farmers and the agricurious descend on a farm for an afternoon, has
taken its traveling work party to 15 small, sustainable farms. Together,
volunteers have contributed more than 2,000 person-hours, doing tasks
like mulching, building greenhouses and pulling rocks out of fields.
Sally should e-mail this to the Culinarium's operators as a value-add
they could coordinate.
farming  grass-roots  community  networking  food  locavore  greenhouses  volunteering 
march 2010 by jerryking

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