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City Council seeks to bar Amazon-style NDAs in future development deals

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The legislation argues that the Amazon NDA undermined democracy

Illustration by Alyssa Nassner

The City Council is moving to prohibit non-disclosure agreements relating to development projects, an action directly responding to the non-disclosure agreement Amazon required New York to sign in the city’s bid to court the company’s second national headquarters.

The bill proposed by Council Members Brad Lander, Jumaane Williams, and Jimmy Van Bramer seeks to “prohibit New York City from signing such non-disclosure agreements in any future economic development deals, preventing the secret dissemination of proprietary city information, such as future infrastructure projects, real estate deals, talent pool, and local labor costs, as well as preventing giant tax giveaways without public knowledge or input,” a press release announcing the measure reads.

The release goes on to decry the “Hunger Games-style bidding process” Amazon used to pit the 238 American cities that responded to its request for bids. The 20 cities that made Amazon’s list of top picks were each required to sign non-disclosure agreements that included a provision requiring those cities to “give Amazon prior written notice sufficient to allow Amazon to seek a protective order or other remedy” in case a member of the public or reporter filed a Freedom of Information Act request. In short, the legislation argues that the Amazon NDA undermined democracy.

The legislation pivots on the idea that the NDA allowed Amazon to keep competing cities and their inhabitants in the dark while seeking out the best incentive package it could find. The two locations Amazon settled on for its second headquarters, New York’s Long Island City and Virginia’s Crystal City, will grant the multi-billion dollar corporation run by the world’s richest man more than $2.8 billion in tax breaks. And lest we forget, New York’s governor will soon change his name to Amazon Cuomo if he is to live up to his pledge to do so if it helped New York land the company. (Sign the petition here.)

“As Amazon’s HQ2 scheme has made abundantly clear, NDAs are being used as a manipulative tool to circumvent public oversight. By keeping the public in the dark, companies like Amazon have been able to loot the public coffers with abandon, while also getting local officials to agree to highly unpopular development deals,” said Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

“Concentrated economic power inevitably translates into political power. Amazon and other giant companies increasingly influence and control local governments. Prohibiting NDAs is a critical step toward correcting this imbalance and restoring the rights and authority of the public.”

Read the proposed legislation in its entirety here.