Washington region residents have filed Freedom of Information Act requests to D.C., state and local governments, including Fairfax County, in hopes of discovering the breadth of incentives being offered to Amazon in hopes of landing the web and retail giant's second headquarters.
The FOIA requests were submitted by members of the D.C. Metro chapter of Democratic Socialists of America in conjunction with the anti-Amazon HQ2 ObviouslyNotDC campaign. The group has now launched a partner website, NoVaSaysNo.com.
Amazon is currently eyeing 20 cities and regions across the continent to locate a second headquarters, known as HQ2, which is expected to generate around 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in economic activity. Key factors for Amazon are access to public transportation, a well-educated workforce and generous tax incentives, among other considerations.
“As our elected officials across the DMV rush to give away billions of taxpayer dollars to Jeff Bezos’s Amazon, they have essentially stonewalled the general public on what exactly is being offered,” Alex Howe, an Alexandria resident and organizer with D.C. DSA, said in a prepared statement. “Our public money should be used to fund affordable housing, schools for our children, and projects that benefit our entire community.”
Fairfax County, which has offered a joint proposal with Loudoun County and the commonwealth of Virginia, is among Amazon's 20 finalists, as are separate pitches from Montgomery County, Maryland, and Washington D.C. The company is expected to select an HQ2 site later this year.
Leaked information from some finalists show governments have offered incentives worth well into the billions.
“Our state and local governments have signed non-disclosure agreements with Amazon, preventing residents from even knowing what is being offered with their tax dollars,” NoVaSaysNo representatives say.
Loudoun officials declined to answer several questions on HQ2 this week, including whether they felt it was fair to hide the bid and taxpayer-funded incentives from members of the public.
“As this project is still confidential, please see our response below that we have used for all FOIA requests regarding this project,” said Colleen Kardasz, assistant director for the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development.
The response continues: “The records as requested are exempt from disclosure under Virginia Code § 2.2-3705.6.3 which states, Proprietary information, voluntarily provided by private business pursuant to a promise of confidentiality from a public body, used by the public body for business, trade, and tourism development or retention; and memoranda, working papers, or other information related to businesses that are considering locating or expanding in Virginia, prepared by a public body, where competition or bargaining is involved and where disclosure of such information would adversely affect the financial interest of the public body.”
Open government and transparency advocates in Chicago and Detroit are similarly battling their city governments for details on the Amazon bid. A lawsuit in Chicago, sparked by Freedom of Information Act requests, is ongoing.
Howe, with NoVaSaysNo, said Bezos' plan is “to play localities across the country off each other to see how much public money he can get elected officials to throw at him.”
“Bezos is the richest man on the planet, and he knows where he wants HQ2 to go,” he said. “Rather than selling out DMV residents in a race to the bottom, our three localities should invest in people and communities. Residents in our region refuse to compete against each other.”
Requests were filed with Alexandria, Montgomery, Fairfax, and Loudoun county governments and economic development agencies, Virginia and Maryland state governments, and the Washington, D.C. mayor’s office.