Given the overwhelming influence of money in politics these days, it’s easy to get cynical about voting. Even I’m not sure any longer that it makes much of a difference and recently have stopped voting as frequently. Still, it’s sad to see when cynicism washes over the 0.1%, people like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos who together control 22% of the country’s wealth.
According to King County voter records, Bezos has voted in only 4 of 27 elections since Amazon became profitable in December 2003 (about 15% of elections). But don’t worry, he still believes in influencing government the old fashioned way, donating money to political action committees and candidates, something he’s done every year since 2000, and running an influential newspaper, Bezos bought The Washington Post for $250 million last year.
Amazon’s PR team is known for rarely responding on the record but I’m guessing it might say – like every other Fortune 100 CEO, Jeff knows that voting’s for the little people. Writing checks may be easier for Bezos than Washington State’s vote by mail ballots.
To Bezos’ credit, in the three years he’s contributed more than $100,000, he’s always voted. In 2012, Bezos and his wife gave $2.5 million to support marriage equality. In 2010, he gave $100,000 to defeat a progressive income tax on wealthy residents (Washington State currently has the most regressive tax system in the country). And, in 2004, Bezos gave $100,000 to support the establishment of Charter Schools.
Seattle’s no stranger to public figureheads that don’t vote. 2009 establishment mayoral candidate Joe Mallahan skipped 13 of 25 elections and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene skipped nine elections in four years (Delbene is a former colleague of mine at Microsoft). But Seattle’s other technology titan, corporate tax avoider Bill Gates, votes with robot-like consistency, skipping only one between the years 2000 and 2011.Rather than buy newspapers, Gates spends a tenth of his foundation’s philanthropic budget funding policy journalism and PR, $1 billion over the past decade (its impact on the policy directions of nonprofits who succeed or fail on its funding worldwide is harder to quantify). The Seattle Times laments Bezos’ and Amazon’s limited role in Northwest philanthropy.
One possible explanation for Bezos’ non-voting is The Times’ report which mentions he is a libertarian. Libertarians believe in limited to no government and some say participation in the two party system is a waste of time.
So at least if you don’t vote regularly – you’re in good company.