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Groups Launch Boycott of Amazon

Online retailer is spending millions trying to overturn law requiring it to collect sales taxes

Nan Brasmer says she won't buy anything from Amazon anymore.

The 72-year-old president of the 950,000-member California Alliance for Retired Americans is among dozens of community leaders planning to gather in Sacramento Monday morning to launch a consumer boycott of the Seattle-based retailer.

The boycott -- and an online petition at ThinkBeforeYouClickCA.org -- targets Amazon for its efforts to overturn a new California law that requires internet retailers to collect sales tax from their customers.

The boycott is backed by many Demoratic members of the state Legislature, including East Bay Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner and State Senator Loni Hancock, both of whom are slated to appear at the Sacramento press event.

"You have to pay tax for what you pay for," Brasmer said.

Billions of dollars in state budget cuts have already eliminated adult day care and in home support services for the elderly and disabled, and have forced both the University of California and California State University systems to raise tuition.

More cuts would be required if the on-line sales tax is over-turned, she said: "If I'm buying from Amazon to avoid paying sales tax and I can’t go to the free kitchen for seniors anymore, what have I done but cut off my nose to spite my face?"

Amazon InitiativeAmazon has already spent $3 million toward putting an initiative on June 2012 ballot to overturning the new tax law, which the state Department of Finance estimates will bring $200 million a year to state coffers.

Spokespeople for the retailer did not return calls seeking comment on the boycott.

Ned Wigglesworth, spokesman for More Jobs Not Taxes, the political committee which is gathering signatures for the Amazon-funded ballot initiative, called a tax on online retailing an unconstitutional "gimmick."

Rather than raising money for needed social programs, an online sales tax would simply cause taxpayers to be "stuck with huge legal bills" if Amazon or another on-line business takes the state to court, Wigglesworth said.

But Mike Herald, a lobbyist on the Western Center on Law an Poverty, which is supporting the boycott, said Amazon is simply engaging in "scare tactics."

"What if Macy's did the same thing?" he asked rhetorically. "I just don’t see the principle that’s being upheld that one business can self-select away from paying the taxes that others have to do."

Brick and mortar retailers are expected to provide the financial muscle for the campaign against Amazon's initiative. They've formed the Alliance for Main Street Fairness which is described on its website as "funded by and .. on behalf of employers who believe there must be a fair and balanced approach concerning the sales tax collection system."

The group's critics say it is simply a front for Walmart. Because Amazon's iniative has not yet qualified for the ballot, the Alliance for Main Street Fairness has not yet formed a formal political committee and, as such, has not been required to release its main funding sources.

Herald said public cyncism around the Alliance's motives provided part of the impetus for the consumer boycott, which he described as a seperate and independent effort.

"We wanted to give people an alternative way to express their frustration," he said. 

"You can say what you want about Walmart, but in general people are concerned when they see a company like Amazon, which is more than happy to help itself at the expense of seniors and the disabled," Herald said.

According to Jean Ross, executive director of the non-partisan California Budget Project, if Amazon's initiative succeeds, the state would have to make even deeper cuts to make up for the $200 million in lost revenue. Such cuts could mean that 30,000 California kids would no longer be eligible for subsidized day care, Ross said.

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