Amazon brushes off conservative questions on Southern Poverty Law Center ties

AmazonSmile has handled more than $100M in donations

Amazon shareholders rejected a conservative investor's proposal Wednesday to examine whether a company charity's use of the Southern Poverty Law Center as a gatekeeper in selecting recipients has led to discrimination against right-leaning organizations.

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The resolution, one of 12 at the Seattle-based company's annual meeting, was introduced by Justin Danhof of the Free Enterprise Project and sought a report on so-called viewpoint discrimination in the AmazonSmile charity. The philanthropic program, which allows Amazon shoppers to donate 0.5 percent of their purchase amounts to nonprofits, has given out more than $100 million.

Its rules ban organizations that promote terrorism, violence or hatred, behaviors the charity depends in part on the Southern Poverty Law Center to identify. While the center was once relied upon by an array of companies and even the U.S. government for similar functions, its reputation has been called into question in recent years.

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An article in The Washington Post, now owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, questioned in 2018 whether the organization was fair in its identification of more than 900 hate groups amid complaints by right-leaning groups that they didn't belong on the widely followed list. Social media platform Twitter no longer lists the SPLC among its Trust and Safety Council advisers, and co-founder Morris Dees was ousted in March 2019.

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"The SPLC is a widely discredited, very partisan organization that uses its hate map to try to put Christian conservative organizations on a par with the Ku Klux Klan," Danhof said after the meeting where his resolution failed.

"Amazon is basically in a very weird extreme here," he added. "It's admittedly engaging in viewpoint discrimination in its charitable program. We called them out on it, and they endorsed it."

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The Free Enterprise Project with which Danhof works uses ownership stakes in publicly traded companies to promote conservative positions, a tactic long employed by other advocacy groups that takes advantage of rules allowing investors who own as little as $2,000 worth of stock to introduce proposals at a corporation's annual meeting.

Amazon declined to comment on the proposal beyond the written recommendation from its board to vote against it, which was included in voting materials sent to investors before the meeting.

"Diversity and inclusion are cornerstones of our continued success and critical components of our culture," the board noted. "We have thorough risk management processes to protect against risks to the company, including risks related to the application of our policies."

The Southern Poverty Law Center didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment. The law center, founded in 1971, has supported causes from civil rights for black Americans to equal rights for gays and lesbians and children's rights.

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