Microsoft Gets Help From Both Sides of the Aisle on Lobbying

Brian Burke, the Microsoft official who was barred from former Massachusetts CIO Louis Gutierrez’s office because of his lobbying activities, is one of a cadre of well-connected Democrats on the company’s payroll in the state.

Burke served in senior government positions in the Clinton administration and later worked on the Kerry/Edwards presidential campaign prior to joining Microsoft as its government affairs director for the Northeast.

Massachusetts public records show that Burke registered with the state as a lobbyist for Microsoft last year. Under “activity performed,” Burke listed 96 pending pieces of legislation as well as Version 3.5 of the state’s Enterprise Technical Reference Model. Burke did not register as a lobbyist this year because he didn’t meet the hourly threshold that would have required him to do so, according to a Microsoft spokeswoman.

Another influential Democrat who has done significant work for Microsoft on a contract basis is John E. “Jack” Murphy Jr. A former state representative with close ties to leaders of the Democrat-dominated legislature, Murphy heads one of the highest-paid lobbying groups in Massachusetts. The $837,850 in lobbying fees that his firm collected last year included $60,000 from Microsoft, matching the maximum it was paid by any client.

Weighing in from the Republican side with arguments favorable to Microsoft’s position on the ODF issue were Washington-based lobbying groups such as Americans for Tax Reform. ATR is headed by conservative activist Grover Norquist, who was once a registered federal lobbyist for Microsoft and has close ties to the Bush administration.

Norquist told Computerworld that ATR sent two letters to Gov. Mitt Romney, a conservative Republican with presidential aspirations, to share its concerns that the state hadn’t done a cost-benefit analysis on ODF and might violate intellectual property rights if it moved to open-source software.

E-mail records released in mid-October by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee as part of a 600-page report show that Microsoft had paid ATR in the past. The report questions the tax-exempt status of organizations such as ATR and examines its ties to convicted federal lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a longtime Norquist associate. E-mails included in the report indicate that Abramoff channeled money to ATR and other nonprofit groups in return for their advocacy on issues.

According to the report, on March 10, 1996, Abramoff wrote to Bruce Heiman, a colleague at Preston Gates & Ellis LLP, that Microsoft was “supposed to be paying [Norquist] $120k for this year ($10k a month)” and that “these lack of payments are really disgusting.” After receiving a reminder letter from Heiman on March 26, Jack Krumholtz, Microsoft’s managing director of federal government affairs, wrote to Heiman, “A check for $60k was mailed on 3/26; he should have it any day. I forwarded the new invoice to Redmond and it’s been processed.”

The report was prepared by the committee’s Democratic staff but couldn’t have been released without the Republican leadership’s consent, according to a Finance Committee staffer who said the document has been referred to officials at the Justice and Treasury departments.

ATR spokesman John Kartch said Norquist worked as a consultant to Microsoft for two years in the mid-1990s, “offering strategic advice on working in Washington.” The e-mails included in the report “refer to his work with Microsoft back then,” Kartch said.

Ginny Terzano, a Microsoft spokeswoman, said the e-mails “are exchanges that took place 10 years ago” and are “very unrelated” to the ODF issue in Massachusetts. She wouldn’t comment on whether Microsoft provided funding to ATR last year but said the company currently isn’t a sponsor of the group and “did not specifically work with” ATR on ODF-related lobbying.

In Massachusetts, Sun and IBM also did their fair share of lobbying in an attempt to make sure that the state’s IT division had no cause to waver from its ODF policy.

Sean Curran, a lobbyist at Waterville Consulting LLC, which has offices in Boston and in Albany, N.Y., received $60,000 in fees from Sun last year, according to Massachusetts state records. On March 11 of this year, Curran sent out an e-mail update on the activities of Microsoft and other opponents of the state’s ODF policy who were supporting the proposed amendment to take away much of the IT division’s decision-making authority.

“We will be fighting this until the amendment is dead,” Curran wrote to Doug Johnson, a program manager in Sun’s corporate standards group, and to Gutierrez.

What do you think of Microsoft's lobbying efforts in Massachusetts, related to the commonwealth's adoption of the Open Document Format for Office Applications? Share your thoughts on the Sound Off blog

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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