Jeff Bezos crumples under pressure on whether Amazon will continue to block customer donations to SPLC-designated extremist groups, saying it's an 'imperfect system'

  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos crumpled under questioning at the hands of Rep. Matt Gaetz during Wednesday's tech antitrust hearing. 
  • Gaetz asked Bezos about the company's Amazon Smile program, which allows customers to designate charities they'd like to support. Amazon will donate a portion of some of their sales to that organization. 
  • The company relies on the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Southern Poverty Law Center to determine any charities that are ineligible for Amazon Smile, which includes groups that promote hate, terrorism, intolerance, or violence. 
  • Gaetz mentioned a handful of groups such as Catholic Family News, American Family Association, and Jewish Defense League that are flagged by the SPLC and therefore not eligible to participate in Amazon Smile, and Bezos responded that it's "an imperfect system" and said Amazon would "like suggestions on better or additional sources" to guide the program. 
  • The groups mentioned by Gaetz promote a range of hateful ideologies, including anti-Semitism and anti-LGBTQ rights, according to the SPLC. 
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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos folded under questioning from Rep. Matt Gaetz during Wednesday's tech antitrust hearing. 

Gaetz, a Republican representative from Florida, asked Bezos about Amazon's Smile program, which donates 0.5% of eligible purchases to the charitable organization of a customer's choice. Amazon relies on the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit that identifies hate groups and extremist groups in the US, to help it determine ineligible charities.

Amazon says it does not allow customers to donate to organizations that "engage in, support, encourage, or promote intolerance, hate, terrorism, violence, money laundering, or other illegal activities."

Gaetz questioned why certain organizations — including Catholic Family News, American Family Association, and Jewish Defense League — are not included as options for customers. 

"I'm just wondering why you would place your confidence in a group that seems to be so out of step and seems to take mainstream Christian doctrine and label it as hate?" Gaetz asked Bezos.

Here's the full exchange:

Bezos: We use the Southern Poverty Law Center data to say which charities are extremist organizations, we also use the US Foreign Asset Office to do the same thing, those two together …

Gaetz: But why? Since they're calling Catholics and these Jewish groups hateful groups, why would you trust them?

Bezos: Sir, I'm going to acknowledge this is an imperfect system and …

Gaetz: No doubt.

Bezos: And I would like suggestions on better or additional sources for how to …

Gaetz: My suggestion would be a divorce from the SPLC.

The SLPC came up again a few minutes later in another line of questioning, and Bezos again implied that Amazon would explore other options besides the SLPC when determining appropriate charitable organizations. 

"While I accept what you're saying that the SLPC and US Foreign Asset Office are not perfect, and I would like a better source if I can get it, that is what we use today," Bezos said.

While Gaetz described a handful of groups that he sees as promoting "mainstream Christian doctrine," the groups specifically mentioned by Gaetz are described very differently by the SPLC: 

  • Catholic Family Ministries publishes Catholic Family News, which has printed anti-Semitic rhetoric and hosted "Catholic extremists" at its conferences, according to the SPLC.
  • Federation for Federal Immigration Reform, which the SPLC says has ties to white supremacist groups and pushes to "severely limit immigration" into the US.
  • American Family Association, an anti-LGBTQ organization that organizes boycotts against companies that support LGBTQ rights, according to the SPLC.
  • Family Research Council, an anti-LGBTQ group that the SPLC says has campaigned against same-sex marriage.
  • Jewish Defense League, which the SPLC describes as "a violent form of anti-Arab, Jewish nationalism" that has organized terrorist attacks. 
  • While Gaetz cited Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson as being on the SPLC's list of extremist groups, that wasn't quite correct — while the SPLC posted an "extremist file" of Carson in 2014, it later took that page down and apologized to Carson. 

Gaetz questioning of Bezos came after more than four hours of questioning from the House Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee. During the first few portion of the hearing, Bezos was questioned very little by the committee after what appeared to be technical difficulties.

In the latter portion of the hearing, Bezos was pressed on a range of topics, including Amazon's treatment of third-party sellers and counterfeit products on the platform. 

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