Jeff Bezos, Inscrutable Libertarian Democrat

How will he handle labor disputes at the Post?

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

After the Washington Post put out word that it had been bought by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, a libertarian friend posted a wry observation on Facebook. (You can do that—you don’t just have to use the site for baby pics.) “A libertarian billionaire bought a newspaper today and everyone cheered,” he said. “What a difference the name ‘Koch’ makes.”

That’s a little cute; Bezos’ investments in political and ideological causes are eclipsed many times over by that of the Kochs, or the Scaifes, or the Soroses, etc. But he’s earned a reputation as a libertarian with a targeted style of giving. He’s donated to the Reason Foundation, which publishes the first magazine that hired me, Reason. He gave $100,000 to the campaign to beat an income tax in his own Washington state—and he won.

Sure, his candidate giving record is more mixed. In 1998 he gave $2,000 to Sen. Patrick Leahy’s smooth re-election bid. In 2000 he spread $1,000 to Rep. John Conyers, $1,000 to Sen. Spencer Abraham, and $1,000 to Washington Sen. Slade Gorton—one Democrat, two Republicans. Right after Gorton was felled by Sen. Maria Cantwell, he gave $2,000 to the Democrat. He gave $4,200 more to Cantwell as she put together her 2006 re-election, and he’s given to both of Sen. Patty Murray’s campaigns since he made his fortune: $2,000 in 2003, $4,800 in 2010. That’s $15,000 over a decade, a fraction of what he gave in order to stop an income tax.

What explains the Democratic tilt? Bezos doesn’t give many interviews about his politics, but turn your eyes to the donation he gave to the successful 2012 campaign to legalize gay marriage in Washington. Bezos and his wife gave $2.5 million. Nothing we know about Bezos suggests that he differs much from the coastal/Acela policy consensus—which is to say he doesn’t differ much from the editorial board of the paper he owns now.

But he’s not used to owning a media corporation with a strong union culture, like the guild at the Post. That’s the first clash I’m interested in.