Oracle Reportedly Funding Secretive Anti-Amazon Lobbying Group

The tech giant, as part of its campaign to torpedo the award of the JEDI military cloud transformation contract to its cloud rival, has reportedly contributed to Free & Fair Markets, a nonprofit that isn't revealing its corporate backers.


Oracle is helping fund a nonprofit formed for the sole purpose of attacking Amazon on just about every front, including its industry-leading AWS cloud division, according to a Wall Street Journal story published Friday.

The Redwood Shores, Calif.-based tech giant has contributed financially to Free & Fair Markets Initiative, an advocacy group that has been completely opaque about funding from some of Amazon's largest competitors in several different areas of its business, the newspaper reported.

Oracle Vice President Kenneth Glueck, who runs the company's lobbying efforts out of an office in Washington, D.C., confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that Oracle has backed Free and Fair Markets. Oracle declined to comment on the report to CRN.

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Glueck has been the chief architect of Oracle's strategy to lobby the U.S. government against AWS winning the entirety of the looming JEDI contract—the centerpiece of the military's potentially $10 billion cloud transformation initiative from which Oracle has been knocked out of contention. Only AWS and Microsoft remain on a short-list, but delivery of the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure award has been delayed because of political factors.

[Related: Oracle Exec Says Battle Not Over For JEDI Cloud Deal: Report]

On its website, Free & Fair Markets describes itself as a "nonprofit watchdog committed to scrutinizing Amazon’s harmful practices and promoting a fair, modern marketplace that works for all Americans." On its Twitter profile, the group describes itself as a “unified voice of concerned consumers, small business owners and taxpayers to ensure companies do their fair share for our local communities.”

But in Amazon's view, it "appears to be little more than a well-oiled front group run by a high-priced public affairs firm and funded by self-interested parties with the sole objective of spreading misinformation about Amazon," according to a statement.

Other Free & Fair Markets funders are large companies with their own competitive motives in unrelated businesses.

Oracle has failed in federal court to torpedo the framework of the JEDI award, but is still advocating for lawmakers to scuttle the winner-take-all nature contract that military leaders have repeatedly come out in favor of.

Free & Fair Markets formed roughly a year-and-a-half ago, just as the battle over the JEDI initiative was heating up and Oracle and other cloud providers began vocally complaining about AWS as the perceived frontrunner and favorite of the Pentagon's IT decision-makers who crafted the RFP.

The group never disclosed its funders, but the WSJ has reported that in addition to Oracle they include Simon Property, owner of hundreds of shopping malls, and indirectly Walmart.

With money from those companies, the group has levied attacks at Amazon for a number of its practices in op-eds and other public relations campaigns. It helped scuttle a second Amazon headquarters on New York's Long Island, and has challenged safety conditions in Amazon warehouses and its data protection practices.

The nonprofit's website lists former banking executive Robert Engel as its chief spokesperson, but no other executives are named.

The Wall Street Journal reported the nonprofit is run by Marathon Strategies, a communications firm founded by Phil Singer, a political operative, that counts Amazon rivals as its clients.

That nonprofit sought a fee of $250,000 from several potential backers, a representative of one of the companies it propositioned for funding told the newspaper.

IBM, which along with Oracle unsuccessfully challenged the terms of JEDI through the Government Accountability Office, was asked to contribute, but declined, the WSJ reported.

The group has listed other supporters, including a labor union, an academic and a business advocate, but those ties all appear shaky or even manufactured, according to the WSJ.

The labor union listed as a member of the nonprofit even told the newspaper a document showing it authorized support for Free & Fair Markets was forged.

Late last year, a dossier surfaced to support what appeared a smear campaign against AWS and military officials with links to the e-commerce and cloud giant.

That 33-page document, shopped around the nation's capital by a private intelligence firm called RosettiStarr, offered unsupported insinuations based on established facts, some of which were highly personal in nature and tenuous at best.

The main thrust was that Department of Defense officials skirted the proper procurement practices to help Amazon win the coveted engagement with the military. Photos, charts and public records outlined a case that conflicts of interest had corrupted the integrity of JEDI bidding.

An elaborate flow-chart chart painting a conspiracy involving former Obama Administration officials and AWS was spotted in the window of Glueck's Oracle office on K Street in Washington.

President Trump has reportedly been shown the same chart, leading him in July to wade into the JEDI controversy. He told reporters at the White House that complaints from companies with unsuccessful bids have convinced him to intervene in the process.

"Some of the greatest companies in the world are complaining about it," the president said during a sit-down with the prime minister of the Netherlands, specifically citing Microsoft, Oracle and IBM.

Two weeks later, Mark Esper, the newly confirmed defense secretary, implemented a review of the military's process for procuring its commercial cloud transformation.