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Corporations and Legislation: Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Two stories are floating around the blogosphere of late, and I think I see a common thread between them.

The first is the tale of how Microsoft chose to not weigh in on Washington state's proposed gay rights law (described by Kevin here). A couple Microsoft employees apparently get word of the company's official "no opinion" stance and testified in favor of the bill, prompting the company to reassert its official non-position. But because a religious activist group had brought the matter to Microsoft's attention (accompanied with a laughable threat to "boycott Microsoft products,") this was immediately spun as "Microsoft caves to the Religious Right."

The second story isn't getting as much play. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) is quietly pushing a bill that would gut the National Weather Service's public website, leaving the field open for the two major private suppliers of weather information, Accuweather and The Weather Channel. (Better summaries here, here, and here, as well as Wizbang frequent commenter Boyd's take here).

Dave Halliday's really the go-to guy on this story, though. He smells blood (well, money), and he's on it like a shark. He's putting together the pieces of a puzzle that, at the least, do NOT make Senator Santorum look very good, and show just how corrosive an influence corporate money can be on politics.

Now, with this sterling example, let's look at the Microsoft case again. Here is a big -- well, rather, huge -- company specifically saying that it has NO opinion on a public issue, is taking a hands-off position, and letting the whole matter succeed or fail on its own merits. But because they have a history of being friendly to gay causes in the past, the left is howling about "betrayal" and how Microsoft apparently had some obligation to back this bill.

There's an old saying that "the government that's big enough to give you anything you want is big enough to take away everything you have." And the same principle holds true on corporations and legislation -- if Microsoft is to be encouraged to use its might to influence lawmaking this time, what's to stop them from doing it whenever it wants, for its own benefit?

This pains me to say, but Microsoft did the right thing this time, and they don't deserve to be roasted for it. And I sincerely hope that Dave Halliday's investigations are followed up on -- it looks like Accuweather deserves a big black eye for this effort of theirs.

J.


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Comments (12)

SteveB would have been bett... (Below threshold)
TonyG:

SteveB would have been better suited to say something along the lines of:

"Microsoft Corp's anti-discrimination policy includes sexual orientation. This is our corporate position and you can either do business with us or not as we have no intention of changing that position. As a corporation we have also decided to take a nuetral position on many political issues. This is one of them."

Unfortunately we it comes to chucking a hissy-fit about not getting everything you want GLEAM apparently has no peers.

Microsoft's customers and b... (Below threshold)
-S-:

Microsoft's customers and business environment involves persons other than gay activists. Which gay activists appear to overlook, conveniently, time and time again.

From what I've read, Microsoft opined as a business in a democracy (ours) that they already provided benefits and an acceptable environment that included sensitivies to and about everyone in their behavioral requirements, and that the proposed legislation was actually potentially harmful (and I agree that it would have been) to everyone (including Microsoft, which was their primary concern in their decision on their behalf).

Out of interest, what was c... (Below threshold)
TonyG:

Out of interest, what was considered harmful in the bill? I went and lightly read the original version and all it seemed to be doing was adding the words "sexual orientation" to where they defined discrimination.

Personally I think corp has the right to decide which pieces of legislation they comment/lobby on. While there is a lot of money in the bank there is not an unending supply of political capital so it needs to be focused on the most important stuff (and I can think of a lot of stuff more important than this piece).

In fact from SteveB's statement:

"When our government affairs team put together its list of its legislative priorities in Olympia before the Legislative Session began in January, we decided to focus on a limited number of issues that are more directly related to our business such as computer privacy, education, and competitiveness. The anti-discrimination bill was not on this list and as a result Microsoft was not actively supporting the bill in the Legislature this year, although last year we did provide a letter of support for similar legislation."

It seems that was the case.

Finally by harmful are you talking about inflaming one side or the other of the debate, or are there specific items in the bill that are wrong.

...to reassert its offic... (Below threshold)
worldcitizen:

...to reassert its official non-position.

You are misinformed. Microsoft did not "choose to remain neutral." They had, as a company, officially supported this bill in every previous legislative session for years. We're not talking about "a history of being friendly to gay causes," but rather a history of supporting this specific bill. They had (and have not announced otherwise... yet) officially, as a company, supported adding sexual orientation to federal anti-discrimination law as well.

It's too late to claim "neutrality".

And about "hissy fits", TonyG: the people throwing them are the religious zealots who refuse to accept that gay and lesbian people exist in our society.

One more thing...T... (Below threshold)
worldcitizen:

One more thing...

The companies that submit supportive testimony on bills like this do so because they have internal non-discrimination policies that have been successful and beneficial to their employees and to their companies overall. This is a matter on which Microsoft, Nike, Boeing, etc. can speak to their own experiences. It's specifically about workplace discrimination.

Worldcitizen, Microsoft ear... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Worldcitizen, Microsoft earlier this year announced it was no longer supporting the measure. When two of its employees implied that it did, THAT was when it had to re-state its neutrality.

Yes, they supported it in the past. But they had no obligation to continue to support it, and they simply chose not to. Their right entirely.

J.

Jay, I don't particularly t... (Below threshold)
worldcitizen:

Jay, I don't particularly think when Microsoft changed its mind is all that relevant. The fact is that they claimed to support anti-discrimination laws as a matter of principle for years, but then changed their mind because christian fundamentalists are now running Congress and the White House. (I agree with you that the presence of the local "minister" was probably not that big of a deal, but it was certainly another data point that let them know which way the wind is blowing.)

But for the record, Microsoft did not announce earlier in the year that they were changing their position. Their "spin" is that they decided earlier in the year, but then messed up in actually conveying that information to the people concerned.

Anyway, all I wanted to try to make clear is why this is being viewed as a "betrayal". You seem surprised (and offended, actually) that it is being viewed that way. In any case, thanks for blogging the issue.

TonyG --, you can easily fi... (Below threshold)
-S-:

TonyG --, you can easily find the answer you write you are curious about by reading both Microsoft's statement about the legislation they declined to support and other news articles, widely available.

In a nutshell, the legislation was deemed redundant to existing benefits that all employees now have available to them, in reference to Microsoft as an employer, and within the state it was deemed to pose an encouragement for increased lawsuits. Which would then work toward the demeanment of other marginalized groups in the local society.

I must say, as a stockholde... (Below threshold)

I must say, as a stockholder, that I'm very relieved to hear that Microsoft's business is so stable, its growth so inspiring, its software so high-quality and bug-free, that it can spend its resources backing legislation that is detrimental to its own business interests.

Think of it this way: peop... (Below threshold)
-S-:

Think of it this way: people with available housing are less likely to make that housing available when certain potentials for lawsuits exist. Not as an act of discrimination but as an act of self preservation. Which then reduces available housing for everyone, when available housing is reduced in any number of units because it's removed from the rental market, rents are raised to disallow housing subsidy programs (most often used by the elderly and/or the disabled), or program participation is simply refused (in whatever programs).

All of which are quite available to owners of potential rental housing -- certainly their right to do so/any of that if they chose -- but it then has an overall effect of reducing available housing for the most stressed, economically challenged groups in our society by placing OTHER restrictions on who and how they can select tenants (or be threatened by lawsuits, which then ensures that available housing is reduced).

That's one but one important example of that question you raised.

can't comment on the Micros... (Below threshold)
fatman:

can't comment on the Microsoft-gay rights groups dust-up because i never heard about it until now. as for rick santorum...

i did volunteer work for his first Senate campaign in 1994 and got to meet him, briefly. in the space of two minutes, he convinced me he was, if not the most arrogant a**hole i'd ever met, then he was at least in the top five. still i voted for his re-election in 2000 (didn't work for him though; reasons of health).
i won't be doing it again, though. between this, his sticking the Penn Hills, Pa. school district for the tab for his kids cyber-school when he, them and his wife all live in Virginia and his weaseling out of term limiting himself (that REALLY chaps my a**) i've had enough. i just hope Pat Toomey runs against him in the primary or that the democrats come up with a half-decent candidate.

"democrats come with a dece... (Below threshold)
fatman:

"democrats come with a decent candidate."?

i can't believe i actually wrote that.




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