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Will Microsoft ruling affect campaign contributions?

June 7, 2000
Web posted at: 6:31 PM EDT (2231 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Some Democratic lawmakers situated in Washington -- most specifically current Vice President and presidential aspirant Al Gore -- shouldn't expect too much in the way of campaign contributions from Microsoft, following Wednesday's federal court ruling that the company be split into two separate entities.


Microsoft officials, including company co-founder and Chairman Bill Gates, are none too pleased with the administration of President Bill Clinton and Vice President Gore, which they hold at least partly responsible for the judge's final ruling.

In April, Gates told a closed-door meeting of the House Republican Conference that the company believed a different administration would likely have treated Microsoft more favorably than did the Clinton-Gore Administration.

This, despite an appearance at the White House by Gates during that very same trip to Washington for the administration's high-profile "New Economy" summit.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, April 5, Gates participated in a discussion panel at the conference. He sat next to the president, and the two appeared to get on well, sharing the occasional private word as others spoke -- belying the bitterness expressed by Gates to Republican majority lawmakers in the House.

Sources on both sides -- administration and Microsoft respectively -- said at the time that the anti-trust case against Microsoft was not discussed at that White House event.

Just a day prior to the beginning of the New Economy summit, a Microsoft source told CNN that Gates would accept Clinton's invitation to attend, saying he would do so "to send a signal" that the sprawling firm remained an economic powerhouse despite the contentious court proceedings.

The White House's invitation to Gates, the source said, "tells us that the White House agrees."

Gates, who until very recently was not known as someone who wore his political leanings on his sleeve, has attempted to match wits with the corporate adversaries whose complaints led to Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's antitrust ruling against the company earlier this year; with Judge Jackson himself; and with the Clinton Justice Department by using the court system to his company's full advantage, and by becoming more politically active.

And what better way to engage in corporate activity than to crack open a few wallets -- including his own.

Cash decline for the Dems, expected boosts for the Republicans

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Microsoft has contributed $1.1 million dollars in soft money to both major political parties this cycle -- $529,000 to the Democrats, and $607,000 to Republicans.

The software giant gave another $700,000 to individual candidates -- and it is those numbers that tell the story behind the company's newfound political activism.

The Center for Responsive Politics looked at how much Microsoft employees gave to the two presidential candidates -- Gore, and Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

According to the non-partisan political contribution watchdog's database, Gore received $20,000 in contributions from Microsoft employees from Jan. 1, 1999 to Jan. 1, 2000, while Bush received just a shade under $35,000 in the same time period.

The watchdog's latest archived donation information was first made available by the Federal Election Commission on March 1.

Granted, Gore received his money months before Jackson issued his premier antitrust ruling against Microsoft in April of this year, and his popularity with Microsoft insiders is difficult to gauge based on numbers this old.

But consider this: In the same time period, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, Gore's Democratic rival during the primary season who posted no victories before withdrawing in March, received $30,050 in donations from Microsoft employees.

Since that time, Microsoft's lobbying operations have kicked into gear in Washington, and their hardest work appears to center on Bush's campaign efforts.

Gore says the nation's anti-monopoly laws are critical to fostering competition -- something Gates and company may not want to hear in the long run.

But Bush has taken a position that appears to be more sympathetic to Microsoft. "You know the fundamental question is, is Microsoft an innovative entity that is providing jobs; are they disrupting an economy that is changing so rapidly? I think the great fear is that Microsoft will be broken up," Bush said recently. The Texas governor won't talk about the Microsoft case now -- at least until it is resolved. But if it is still in the appeals court by the Clinton administration's end, the next president might well be able to influence its outcome. "If the case is in play, then the next administration, if it wanted to could try to settle with Microsoft on more generous terms than what this administration has pursued," speculated Bob Litan of the Brookings Institute.

A spokesman for Microsoft says Gates and the company are not even looking for a political solution -- that it is a legal matter, and they'll fight it in court.

But their money is talking all the same.

In May, Microsoft participated in a high-profile Washington fund-raiser for Bush. Lobbyists for the firm sat on the 90-member host committee for the event, which, at $1,000 a head, aimed to raise some $350,000 to $400,000.

Indications are that Microsoft's giving will continue, and the next donation numbers released by the Federal Election Commission will be telling.

Republican lawmakers are beginning to fall in behind Microsoft. Following Wednesday's ruling, Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-Oklahoma), said, "Today may be a good day for the Clinton administration legislation-by-litigation agenda, but it is a sad day for the American consumer."

It is important to note that the Redmond, Washington-based firm hasn't turned Republican just because of the efforts of the Clinton administration's Justice Department.

Microsoft realizes there are many friendly Democrats out there, and donated some $67,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the first three months of this year.

CNN's Judy Woodruff contributed to this report


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Wednesday, June 7, 2000


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