The New York Times, controlled by the Sulzberger family, is among the last major dailies still operated by descendants of an early proprietor. It acquired the Boston Globe from members of the Taylor family in 1993 for $1.1 billion; it announced last week that it was selling the paper for a mere $70 million to Boston businessman John W. Henry, who owns the Boston Red Sox baseball team.
After the sale to Bezos, the Graham family will continue to control the renamed Washington Post Co. through its closely held stock, known as Class A shares. The A shares cannot be sold on the open market but outvote a second class of public stock, called Class B shares. The New York Times Co. has a similar stock structure, ensuring the Sulzbergers’ control.
Bezos, who ranks 11th on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest individuals in the United States, has given little indication of his ideological leanings over the years. He has not been a heavy contributor to political campaigns, although he and his wife have regularly donated to the campaign of Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). In years past, they had given modest contributions to a handful of Republican and Democratic senators.
Bezos’s political profile rose suddenly and sharply when he and his wife, MacKenzie, agreed last year to donate $2.5 million to help pass a referendum measure that would legalize same-sex marriage in Washington state, catapulting them to the top ranks of financial backers of gay rights in the country. The donation doubled the money available to the initiative, which was approved in November and made Washington among the first states to pass same-sex marriage by popular vote.
Perhaps the single biggest item on Amazon’s legislative agenda is a bill that would empower all states to collect sales tax from online retailers.
Amazon is required to collect sales taxes only in states where it maintains a physical presence, such as a warehouse. But Amazon now is supporting the bill, which has passed the Senate and is pending in the House. State sales taxes no longer pose a real threat to Amazon; with an emphasis on same-day shipping, the company is building distribution warehouses across the country and would have to pay the tax anyway. Last month, the company announced it would hire 5,000 employees at these warehouses, an ambitious growth strategy that is hurting profits in the short run.
Bezos’s most notable charitable donations have been twin $10 million contributions to two Seattle-based institutions, the Museum of History and Industry and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The gift to the museum was for the creation of a center for innovation that would be situated a few blocks from a new Amazon headquarters campus.
Baron, the former editor of the Boston Globe who joined The Post as its editor in January, said he was surprised to learn last week that the newspaper was being sold.
But he added: “I’m encouraged that the paper will be in the hands of a successful businessperson who understands the world of technology as well as anyone. He’s expressed his commitment to the organization and to its continued independence. . . . I came here because I wanted to join a great news organization, and it will continue to be one.”