Amazon was the only big tech company repeatedly called out by name during the Democratic presidential debates

jeff bezosREUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

  • Over the course of two nights, Democratic candidates pounded on one of their favorite subjects: what they will do to stop greedy corporations.
  • They named plenty of industries they wanted to take on: big oil, big pharma, and insurance companies.
  • But one company was mentioned by name more than any other, and it isn't a member of any of those industries: Amazon.

Democratic candidates talked at length across two nights of debates about how they wanted to take on greedy corporations. They particularly called out big oil, big pharma, and insurance industries.

elizabeth warrenDemocratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).Sergio Flores/Getty Images
But one company was singled out more than any other during both nights of debate, and it's not a member of any of those industries: Amazon.

Amazon was actually the only tech company called out by name during the debates at all.

Senator Cory Booker had previously condemned Senator Elizabeth Warren's vow to break up big tech companies Amazon, Facebook, and Google should she be elected. Booker didn't like that Warren had said she would break up these companies before there had been some kind of due process.

But when asked about it during the debates, he was happy to condemn Amazon along with oil company Halliburton, saying, "I will single out companies like Halliburton or Amazon that pay nothing in taxes and our need to change that."

As for breaking them up, he said, if he was elected he would empower judges, the DOJ, and the Federal Trade Commission to enforce the laws and let them investigate.

Read: This Amazon exec helped Alexa work with 60,000 devices, but says he only really understood its power when his kid came home from school

Andrew YangHollis Johnson/Business Insider
Interestingly, Elizabeth Warren, who has been naming names and leading the calls for breaking up big tech, didn't this time on stage. Instead of repeating her vow to break up Amazon, Facebook and Google, Warren implied that these companies were monopolies who have been throwing their lobbying influence around Washington.

"It has been far too long that the monopolies have been making the campaign contributions, have been funding the super PACs, have been out there making sure that their influence is heard and felt in every single decision that gets made in Washington," she said.

"Where I want to start this is I want to return government to the people, and that means calling out the names of the monopolists and saying I have the courage to go after them," she defended.

But she didn't spend her time in the debates stumping against any tech company by name.

Read: Jeff Bezos says the true secret to business success is to focus on the things that won't change, not the things that will

Candidate Andrew Yang did wade in. Yang is a lawyer and entrepreneur who was CEO of a GMAT college exam prep company, Manhattan Prep, that sold to Kaplan for an undisclosed sum in 2009. He now runs a nonprofit called Venture for America that funds startups in cities outside of Silicon Valley.

Yang is known for his universal income plan to give $1,000/month to everyone at a cost of trillions of dollars a year.

When asked how he would fund it, he said, "So, it's difficult to do if you have companies like Amazon, trillion-dollar tech companies, paying literally zero in taxes while they're closing 30 percent of our stores."

He also also advocated for a new "value-added tax" on corporations that closes tax loopholes on goods and services.

Amazon didn't respond to any of this directly but it has been pushing back, repeatedly, when it finds itself the subject of political rhetoric.

When Joe Biden criticized Amazon earlier this month for not paying its fair share of federal taxes, the company shot back.

"We've paid $2.6B in corporate taxes since 2016," Amazon said in a tweet. "We pay every penny we owe. Congress designed tax laws to encourage companies to reinvest in the American economy. We have. $200B in investments since 2011 & 300K US jobs. Assume VP Biden's complaint is w/ the tax code, not Amazon."

It also responded when Warren began explaining some of her gripes about Amazon during a town hall in April. She was talking about Amazon offering its own private label products while it also controls the platform where the goods are sold, saying it gives Amazon an unfair advantage.

Amazon fired back on Twitter:

Cory BookerSen. Cory Booker has been one of the most vocal advocates for marijuana legalization in the Senate.Carlo Allegri/Reuters
"We don't use individual sellers' data to launch private label products (which account for only about 1% of sales). And sellers aren't being 'knocked out' - they're seeing record sales every year."

Warren doubled down on her arguments and a tweet spat ensued.

Meanwhile, Amazon consumer CEO Jeff Wilke told reporters earlier this month that he's okay with government investigations in tech but that his company shouldn't be broken up.

"We believe the most substantial entities in tech deserve scrutiny, and it's our job to build a company that passes scrutiny," he said.

He also said that all major retailers have their own private label brands and the only data Amazon employees get when they decide which products to offer is Amazon's publicly published best-sellers lists.

Exclusive FREE Slide Deck: 40 Big Tech Predictions for 2019 by Business Insider Intelligence

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