BILL GATES, his corporation, and his employees have doled out a Microsoft record $2.8 million so far to support 1999-2000 US congressional and presidential candidates,


Software, soft money, and Libertarians

Microsoft is spreading its political gifts far and wide.

BILL GATES, his corporation, and his employees have doled out a Microsoft record $2.8 million so far to support 1999-2000 US congressional and presidential candidates, and it now appears the company is beginning to make peace with trust-busting Democrats.

New federal filings show this election season's corporate and individual contributions are almost 10 times the amount Microsoft gave four years ago, when it was listed on hardly anyone's fund-raiser Rolodex. The amount sends Microsoft sailing past the erstwhile local champ of campaign giving, Boeing, which has donated $1.3 million to federal races this year, and puts the company fifth among US soft money donors, behind AT&T and just ahead of Philip Morris, according to September figures from the watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics.

Most importantly, the company has been giving lavishly to all sides, with the apparent strategy of embracing supporters and stroking detractors. Of Microsoft's $1.7 million in soft money—given to parties rather than directly to candidates—more than $1 million went to George W. Bush's party, according to the Federal Election Commission. Individual Microsoft workers have been even more staunchly Republican: They've given $50,000 to Bush, twice the amount they've given to Al Gore.

Still, at $700,000, that's a nice boost for the Democrats, who individually are drawing some of the company's heaviest support. Freshman US Representative Jay Inslee has been given 15,000 Microdollars to make his reelection run in the First District against Eastside Republican and state Senator Dan McDonald. Inslee has been a Microsoft defender and is a heavy favorite to retain the House seat.

Of course, Republican Senator Slade Gorton—among the first to support Microsoft in its battles with the Justice Department—has also been rewarded, so far directly handed $10,000 by Microsoft for his reelection race against former Demo House member and software magnate Maria Cantwell (she of longtime Microsoft rival RealNetworks). Bill Gates personally chipped in another $1,600 for Gorton, whose war chest—like Cantwell's—tops $5 million.

The cross-party donations may seem politically schizophrenic. But Microsoft's strategy, especially this year, apparently is to cover more bases, and Gates is dropping PAC money like political saturation bombs. (Microsoft's political action committee has been funded with a $5,000 personal contribution from Gates and $10,000 from his wife Melinda).

The software giant has donated, for example, $6,500 to impeachment hypocrite Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL), $1,000 to venerable liberal Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), $4,000 to conservative Representative Rick Lazio (R-NY, now in a Senate runoff with Hillary Clinton who is not yet on Microsoft's list), and $3,500 to old-style liberal Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), who publicly declared his opposition to a breakup of the company. Microsoft plays both sides in the lobbying game as well; it has hired former Republican Party Chairman Haley Barbour and DC's top Democratic lobbying firm, Patton, Boggs, to do its cajoling and persuading.

Finally, to show it apparently will hedge any bet, Microsoft has also given $4,475 to White House hopeful Harry Browne. According to the CRP, that makes Microsoft the number one donor to the Libertarian's campaign. (In April, Browne issued a press release asking "Will the Justice Department pay for the damage it has done?") As they must say around the Redmond campus, you never know.

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