NASHUA, NH – DECEMBER 13: Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders … [+]
In the past few days, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has faced criticism over news that his campaign spent more than any other did on Amazon orders, around $233,350, as of this fall — mostly on office supplies sold by third-party vendors on Amazon Marketplace, according to Bloomberg.
That is despite Sanders’ frequent campaign promise to rein in the retail giant, critics have pointed out. The same can be said about fellow candidates and Amazon critics Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), whose campaigns spent the second- and third-largest amounts through Amazon, and President Donald Trump, who has occasionally criticized Amazon, and took the fourth-place spot, Bloomberg found.
In news outlets and on social media, the story has met with a mix of reactions from supporters of the candidates as well as a range of political commentators. Some have said the purchases make hypocrites out of the candidates, while others chalked it up to the system that we live in, and limits to our marketplace choices.
The Washington Post reported that the issue has been vexing members of the Sanders campaign for some time, according to some current or former insiders (though Sanders himself may not be or have been aware of it).
See also: The Delivery War Is Reckless And Vain
“The campaign’s spending on Amazon is a small fraction of the more than $40 million it shelled out on operating expenditures during the same period,” wrote Sean Sullivan for the Post (which is owned by, but edited separately from, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos). “But it was more than other campaigns spent on the company, and more than enough to prompt surprise and complaints from staffers who felt it conflicted with the campaign’s principles.”
Sullivan reported that members of the Sanders campaign may have struggled, too — understandably, perhaps — when trying to find economical but more values-aligned alternatives to supply the campaign, which has consistently broken records with its millions of small donors. Some defenders of Sanders and Warren also argued that, like it or not, Amazon and its partners or subsidiaries account for a large, growing, and (business- and price-wise) highly competitive part of all US retail.
In other words, that even if the campaigns were willing and able to spend a more (if need be) to get their supplies from a less socially and politically volatile source, such options are increasingly slim, and often have their own geopolitical, environmental and/or socioeconomic baggage.
Sanders campaign spokesman Mike Casca said in a statement, “We agree that too few companies have too much power over our economy and our media in America and they often don’t pay their fair share of taxes, which is why a Sanders administration will take them on.”
Among other things, the Post’s reporting also supports another possible explanation (at least in part) for why some Sanders campaign staff have been okay with using Amazon’s platform, and some have not: in a somewhat similar instance, Sullivan wrote, Sanders staffers conflicted over using Airbnb properties for campaign business, due to consumer and regulatory concerns about that company’s practices.
When making consumer decisions as a group based on ethical principles, it seems, there’s always a learning curve to contend with, but also the high level of personal judgment we use to make nearly any decision.
So even if we do have time and ability to learn a little or a lot about different firms’ morally questionable acts, we still ultimately have to find some kind of financial, practical, and/or ethical compromise based on what these factors are worth to us.
Within the Sanders campaign, for example, there are presumably some folks who are willing to use Lyft but not Uber, and others who’ll only ride bicycles or the bus. Some are presumably thankful for the needed extra cash that they or a family member, friend, or colleague has gotten from renting out space on Airbnb.
It’s also very hard to imagine that any member of both the Sanders and Warren campaigns (and likely many others’ teams besides) hasn’t spent money on something either for work or personally within the last week that they don’t feel good about — financially, practically, ethically, or otherwise — as busy members of contemporary US culture, be it gasoline and factory-farmed ham or Amazon Prime.
Of course, when it comes to grappling with implicitly dark choices in this moment’s marketplace, some also make the argument that, if you can’t exit something that’s gone off the rails, you might as well try to ride it out safely, and/or into the ground.
But for politicians, especially high-aiming ones, it’s definitely for the better if these kinds of decisions, which they are modeling for the public, are made carefully and visibly going forward instead.