Social welfare groups call for Amazon boycott
A coalition of advocates for improved health, welfare and social services is calling for a boycott of Amazon.com Inc. until the giant Internet retailer drops a referendum aimed at overturning a new law requiring it to collect sales taxes on goods purchased by Californians.
At a news conference on the steps of the state Capitol on Monday, the organization, dubbed the Think Before You Click campaign, asked Amazon shoppers to cancel their accounts with the Seattle-based company. The group has launched a website, www.thinkbeforeyouclickca.com.
"The $200 million in annual revenue that [the state of] California loses each year through Amazon's tax loophole would have been enough to prevent the $90-million cut from California's Adult Day Health Care program," said Nan Brasmer, president of the California Alliance for Retired Americans.
The members of the coalition are Health Access, the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the California Immigration Policy Center and the California Partnership, which deals with senior citizen health issues.
According to a state tax collection agency, the Board of Equalization, California fails to collect about $1 billion a year in sales taxes from Internet purchases. As a result, online sellers, such as Amazon and Overstock.com, enjoy an unfair but significant advantage over other major California businesses that operate actual stores and collect sales tax that's remitted to the state.
Amazon, however, is refusing to comply with a new law by collecting those same sales taxes, calling it unconstitutional and a barrier to interstate commerce. The company currently is gathering signatures for a proposed referendum that would ask voters next year to overturn the sales tax law that took effect on July 1.
Amazon should not be allowed to flout the California law at a time when billions of dollars in social, health, welfare and education spending have disappeared, the activists said.
"Over the last four years, California has cut more than $15 billion from essential health care and human services programs. These cuts have cost our state much needed jobs and have shifted responsibility for balancing the budget deficit on to the backs of the state's most vulnerable residents," said Jessica Lehman of the Community Resources for Independent Living, which provides assistance to the disabled.
"In that same time, Amazon.com and other online retailers have made billions in profits. If Amazon is not not willing to contribute to California, then why should we continue to contribute to Amazon?"
A spokesman for Amazon's referendum campaign did not address the call for the boycott. But Ned Wigglesworth of the "More Jobs Not Taxes" campaign criticized the California law for its potential to "kill [Internet-related] jobs when we need them for our economic recovery."
Boycott efforts toward Amazon, no matter how well intentioned, might have trouble getting wide public support, said industry analyst Jordan Rohan of Stifel Nicolaus in New York City.
"I'm not sure if the emotional appeal is enough to keep people from saving money," he said. "I don't know how much traction they're going to have on that..."
-- Marc Lifsher and Andrea Chang
Photo: Amazon production distribution center. Credit: Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press