April 26, 2005 5:00 PM PDT

Microsoft draws new fire for lobbyist ties

Microsoft came under renewed criticism from gay- and lesbian-rights groups on Tuesday after an online report indicated that the company is using former Christian Coalition chief Ralph Reed's lobbying firm.

The software giant has drawn fire over the past few weeks for withdrawing its support for an antidiscrimination bill in the state of Washington, shortly after being pressured to do so by a conservative local pastor. The bill subsequently failed by a single vote.

Gay and lesbian groups have historically been well-disposed toward the company, which offers domestic partner benefits and has included sexual orientation in its own antidiscrimination policies. But those groups are now calling for Microsoft to sever its connection to Reed's Century Strategies firm and to hold talks with them on rights issues.

"We're just dismayed that as an agent of Microsoft, (Reed) might have played a role in the defeat of equal rights for all Washingtonians," said George Cheung, executive director of Equal Rights Washington, a Seattle-based gay- and lesbian-rights group. Cheung's group has invited the company's top executives to a town hall meeting this Friday to discuss the company's future activities.

A company spokesman said Microsoft has used Reed's consulting firm continuously since 2000 on international-trade and competition issues. That work had nothing to do with the Washington state legislative issue, the spokesman said.

"They have never advised Microsoft in any way on any social-policy issues," spokesman Mark Murray said. "Those are two completely unrelated things."

In an e-mail circulated internally, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer explained the company's change of policy on the Washington state bill as part of a broader decision to avoid social-policy issues that might prove divisive internally. He said the pressure by the conservative local pastor had not been responsible for the company's decision.

A Seattle Times interview with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, published Tuesday, appeared to indicate that the company could reconsider its position on the legislation next year. Murray said Gates' words were not meant to show a reversal of policy but that the company was taking into consideration the large number of e-mails it had received on both sides of the issue.

The company's connection to Reed was reported by AmericaBlog, a Washington D.C.-based site that writes on politics and gay civil-rights issues.

Microsoft originally hired Reed as a lobbyist in 1998, while still facing antitrust litigation. In 2000, Reed's firm sent letters to influential Republicans asking them to contact then-presidential candidate George Bush on behalf of the company. After the tactic surfaced in a New York Times article, Reed halted the practice, apologizing for any appearance of conflict of interest.

Reed has long been associated with the religious conservative arm of the Republican party, which has actively opposed gay marriage and antidiscrimination legislation. However, during his own tenure as executive director of the Christian Coalition, Reed struck a more moderate rhetorical tone on gay issues than did many of his political allies.

Reed is now a candidate for lieutenant governor in his home state of Georgia.

54 comments

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Wrong...
Microsoft never had any official position on the bill, and therefore couldn't withdraw support for it. Ballmer's e-mail I think made the correct assessment... not to get involved as it's not an issue core to their business.

Remember, this is a company that already offers domestic partner benefits and spells out discrimination policies regarding homosexual and TG/TS employees.
Posted by Jeff Putz (302 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly
So, everyone is upset about MS taking a NEUTRAL position on something that DOES NOT AFFECT THEIR CORE BUSINESS and that they ALREADY FULLY EXCEED as compared with most other companies.. People hate microsoft for simply hate alone, not for any rational reasoning. The 2 employees were not speaking for MS, they just happened to work at MS. Should we go after all the other companies that have employees with personal lives and opinions? HOW DARE those companies hire people with opinions... they should replace them all with machines... Oh wait, that's another gripe isn't it?

And now people are upset that Microsoft is FINALLY doing what every other company has done for years----spending some money wisely on lobbiest to PROTECT it's interests that are constantly being barraged by all the nuts that hate the company for no exact reason? If I was a shareholder I would applaud them standing up for themselves... IBM, Intel, and even Apple ensure they arn't left without some representation in this strange system we call democracy!
Posted by Anon-Y-mous (124 comments )
Link Flag
Revising History Again?
"Microsoft never had any official
position on the bill, and therefore
couldn't withdraw support for it."

That statement lacks historical accuracy. Is there some reason you want to alter perception about this issue or are you just short of the requisite knowledge to comment?
Microsoft originally supported the bill.
Posted by nealda (105 comments )
Link Flag
Wrong...
Microsoft never had any official position on the bill, and therefore couldn't withdraw support for it. Ballmer's e-mail I think made the correct assessment... not to get involved as it's not an issue core to their business.

Remember, this is a company that already offers domestic partner benefits and spells out discrimination policies regarding homosexual and TG/TS employees.
Posted by Jeff Putz (302 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly
So, everyone is upset about MS taking a NEUTRAL position on something that DOES NOT AFFECT THEIR CORE BUSINESS and that they ALREADY FULLY EXCEED as compared with most other companies.. People hate microsoft for simply hate alone, not for any rational reasoning. The 2 employees were not speaking for MS, they just happened to work at MS. Should we go after all the other companies that have employees with personal lives and opinions? HOW DARE those companies hire people with opinions... they should replace them all with machines... Oh wait, that's another gripe isn't it?

And now people are upset that Microsoft is FINALLY doing what every other company has done for years----spending some money wisely on lobbiest to PROTECT it's interests that are constantly being barraged by all the nuts that hate the company for no exact reason? If I was a shareholder I would applaud them standing up for themselves... IBM, Intel, and even Apple ensure they arn't left without some representation in this strange system we call democracy!
Posted by Anon-Y-mous (124 comments )
Link Flag
Revising History Again?
"Microsoft never had any official
position on the bill, and therefore
couldn't withdraw support for it."

That statement lacks historical accuracy. Is there some reason you want to alter perception about this issue or are you just short of the requisite knowledge to comment?
Microsoft originally supported the bill.
Posted by nealda (105 comments )
Link Flag
MS is doing something right....
... and they should be recognized for their efforts. But, too many
people on both sides of the 'discussion' polarize the sitution to
an extreme, and don't hesitate to include various forms of FOG,
including deliberately false points.

Discrimination is wrong, on any basis. And MS has made that
position clear. Reed's associations are one thig; his company's
associations are another, just like at MS.

It would be nice to see people get back to rationale positions
and work together for a solution. But people are people,
undfortunately, and 'rational' is a word that rarely applies and
even more rarely is recognized.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MS is doing something right....
... and they should be recognized for their efforts. But, too many
people on both sides of the 'discussion' polarize the sitution to
an extreme, and don't hesitate to include various forms of FOG,
including deliberately false points.

Discrimination is wrong, on any basis. And MS has made that
position clear. Reed's associations are one thig; his company's
associations are another, just like at MS.

It would be nice to see people get back to rationale positions
and work together for a solution. But people are people,
undfortunately, and 'rational' is a word that rarely applies and
even more rarely is recognized.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MS is just trying to play the game by its current rules.
Being a business, MS understands that to get business favors from the current government (and in fact, to avoid being PUNISHED), they need to be seen as a "friend of Bush." That means not supporting a "liberal" agenda and recruiting lobbyists with religious ties.

If Dennis Kucinich had become president, MS would be throwing money at gay-rights legislation and hiring Ralph Nader as a lobbyist. Whatever it takes to make money.

That's probably worse than being right-wing.
Posted by M C (598 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MS is just trying to play the game by its current rules.
Being a business, MS understands that to get business favors from the current government (and in fact, to avoid being PUNISHED), they need to be seen as a "friend of Bush." That means not supporting a "liberal" agenda and recruiting lobbyists with religious ties.

If Dennis Kucinich had become president, MS would be throwing money at gay-rights legislation and hiring Ralph Nader as a lobbyist. Whatever it takes to make money.

That's probably worse than being right-wing.
Posted by M C (598 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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