The Washington Post’s new owner, Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeffrey Bezos, gave $2.5 million last year in support of a ballot measure to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington State.
The contribution made jointly by Bezos and his wife, which is believed to be the highest ever single contribution for the cause of marriage equality, was viewed with interest this week by LGBT activists following the surprise announcement on Monday that Bezos is buying the Post for $250 million.
Most political and media observers are predicting the type of news coverage the Post has provided under the leadership of the Katherine Graham family and its liberal-progressive leaning editorial positions will continue under Bezos – at least for the near future.
The Post in recent years has expanded its news coverage of LGBT issues and has expressed strong support for LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage, on its editorial page.
In separate statements, the Post and Bezos made it clear that the Seattle-based Amazon Company won’t play any role in the purchase or operation of the Post.
“Bezos himself will buy the news organization and become its sole owner when the sale is completed, probably within 60 days,” the Post reported. “The Post Co. will get a new, still-undecided name and continue as a publicly traded company without the Post,” according to the Post story.
Records from the U.S. Federal Election Commission show that Bezos has given only $83,000 to federal candidates running for public office since 2001. Most of his contributions have been to progressive Democrats, such as his two current home state senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats; Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).
However, FEC records show he has also contributed money to the campaigns of a few moderate Republicans, including former Sen. Slade Gordon (R-Wash.) and former Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.).
During his tenure as CEO of Amazon.com, the Human Rights Campaign has given Amazon overall high marks in the LGBT rights group’s Corporate Equality Index, which rates Fortune 500 U.S. corporations on their policies related to LGBT employees. In its recently released corporate index for 2012, HRC gave Amazon a rating of 90 out of a possible score of 100.
According to HRC’s write-up accompanying Amazon’s rating, the company includes sexual orientation and gender identity in its employee non-discrimination policy and provides health benefits to employees’ same-sex partners. Amazon also includes the topics of sexual orientation and gender identity in its diversity training program for employees and managers.
Rod Hearne, a board member of the statewide LGBT advocacy group Equal Rights Washington, said that while Amazon is well known as an LGBT-friendly employer, the company and Bezos have taken a low profile on controversial political issues. Bezos made an exception to that posture a few years ago, Hearne said, when he made a large donation to the campaign opposing a ballot measure to put in place a state income tax for large businesses.
Hearn said Bezos and his wife’s mega donation to the marriage equality initiative last year came in response to a request from an out lesbian who was a retired employee and who had worked with Bezos shortly after Amazon’s founding.
“She had sent Bezos a short, heartfelt email asking for a donation in the $100,000 range,” Hearn told the Blade. “He responded quickly with a short note saying that he’d discussed it with his wife, that the issue was important to them, and they were in for $2.5 million,” said Hearn. “Everyone was blown away because they had never taken such a bold, public stance on an issue like marriage equality.”
Hearn, who says he’s friends with several LGBT Amazon employees, doubts that Bezos will exert “heavy-handed editorial control” over the Post.
“I don’t think Bezos is buying it out of charity, but he’s perfectly comfortable sustaining short-term operating losses while building out a broad customer base for a long-term payoff,” Hearn said. “While I doubt Bezos will be pushing a particular editorial agenda, I think the editors will not get any pushback at all from their new publisher when it comes to support for LGBT civil rights and marriage equality.”
Democratic National Committee Treasurer Andrew Tobias, who’s gay, said the FEC records show that Bezos has not been a very large contributor to candidates running for public office.
“But his marriage contribution seems to tell us all we need to know on this topic,” Tobias said.
Like many of the nation’s large daily newspapers, the Post has struggled in recent years as the circulation of its print edition has declined. Information released by the Post on Monday showed that the Post pulled in $582 million in revenue last year but incurred an operating loss of $53.7 million.
Bezos, whose personal net worth is said to be about $25.2 billion, can afford to own a paper that loses money, but he is likely to take steps to make the Post profitable, industry analysts said this week.
“The values of the Post do not need changing,” Bezos said in a statement published on the Post website Monday afternoon. “There will, of course, be change at The Post over the coming years,” he said in his statement. “That’s essential and would have happened with or without new ownership.”
He added that he will remain in Seattle as Amazon’s CEO and won’t be running the Post on a day-to-day basis.
“Besides that, the Post already has an excellent leadership team that knows much more about the news business than I do, and I’m extremely grateful to them for agreeing to stay on.”
Curtis Tate, president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association’s Washington, D.C. chapter, said many of NLGJA’s friends and members work at the Post.
“Changes in ownership can create a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty, as journalists across the country know all too well,” he said. “However, we hope that the new ownership will allow the paper’s great journalism traditions to continue. Our Post colleagues should be proud of what they have accomplished, and we wish them nothing but the best.”