A group presenting itself as grassroots independent watchdog which has been hounding Amazon has been funded by three of its biggest rivals, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Free and Fair Markets Initiative (FFMI) is a nonprofit group which, according to the Journal, sprung up roughly 18 months ago. The group frequently put out emails to journalists criticising Amazon's dominant market position, some of which Business Insider received. Its Twitter page and website are equally critical of the tech giant.
However, the organisation is opaque about its structure and financial backing, describing itself only as a "nonprofit watchdog committed to scrutinizing Amazon's harmful practices and promoting a fair, modern marketplace that works for all Americans," and citing a single chief spokesperson, Robert B. Engel.
Citing anonymous sources "involved with and briefed on the project," The Journal reports that FFMI is in financially backed by retail giant Walmart, Simon Property Group (a real estate company with large investments in shopping malls), and enterprise tech company Oracle.
Walmart competes with Amazon in the commerce space, Simon has found its malls increasingly endangered by online shopping, and Oracle is currently bidding against Amazon for a $10 billion Pentagon contract.
FFMI's parent company, communications firm Marathon Strategies, did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment. In a statement, FFMI told the Journal: "The bottom line is that FFMI is focusing on the substantive issues and putting a spotlight on the way companies like Amazon undermine the public good—something that media outlets, activists, and politicians in both parties are also doing with increasing frequency. If Amazon can not take the heat then it should stay out of the kitchen."
Phil Singer, the managing director of Marathon Strategies, told the Journal: "FFMI is not obligated to disclose its donors and it does not."
The Journal's reporting also raised questions about FFMI's claims of support from other organisations.
Numerous entities listed as members of FFMI told the newspaper they weren't aware their names were on the FFMI site. FFMI subsequently removed them, but gave the explanation: "The names of the groups listed on the site were removed at their request after we heard complaints about some receiving harassing phone calls [from journalists]." In one instance a union official contacted by the Journal said that the group had somehow obtained her signature without her giving it.
Walmart denied funding FFMI in a statement to Business Insider. Simon did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment, but declined to comment to the Journal. Oracle did not respond to a request for comment.
An Amazon spokesman told Business Insider the Journal's report "speaks for itself."