Activists are on a quest to find out.

“If they won’t tell you what it is, it can’t be good,” Eugene Puryear, an author, organizer, and member of the Movement for Black Lives D.C., told a crowd. More than 100 were gathered in front of him, drawn to a D.C. church last Tuesday to protest the lack of transparency surrounding their city’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters.

© Reed Saxon/AP


By increasing public accountability surrounding the contents of the bids themselves, activists believe they’ll be able to hold officials accountable for voting bad deals down (or negotiating better terms in advance, when the next company comes calling), and to plan more effective responses.

“The whole point was to do what our governments are refusing to do,” said Erin Shields, a member of the Black Youth Project 100, on Tuesday, according to WAMU. “To have a conversation that is open and transparent and is, most importantly, critical of what Amazon is proposing.”

Some of Washington D.C.’s offerings have been acquired from successful Freedom of Information Act inquiries filed by WAMU, revealing that the city offered property and sales tax exemptions, relocation reimbursements, and new hiring credits worth more than $100 million. But other FOIA requests have been blocked, compelling news organizations and others to file lawsuits.

Pennsylvania’s governor, for one, is holding tightly to his secret: While the president of Philadelphia’s Chamber of Congress told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Pennsylvania will offer up to $1 billion in economic incentives for both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh’s bids, state government officials have kept the itemized proposal private. Last month, a local news site, Morning Callfiled a public records request to expose those details, hoping to reveal the full scope of the state’s incentive package. The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records granted the request, deeming the files public records. But in April, before any of them could be released, a lawyer for the state filed a suit to block the requests again.

“We really don’t know what’s in the contract to make specific demands against it,” said Brandi Fisher, a Worker Justice Organizer with Pittsburgh United.