SEATTLE -- The chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp. says the federal antitrust case against his company has affected the way Microsoft approaches politics, including contributions to candidates.
President and CEO Steve Ballmer, speaking Tuesday at a luncheon for the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, was hit with the question from an audience member about the Justice Department's suit against the company and whether it's had an effect on political contributions.
''Yes. Next question,'' Ballmer said with a grin, prompting a round of laughter and applause from the mostly friendly audience.
''I think we were caught unaware of the fact that our company doesn't function solely based on the technology we make,'' Ballmer went on to explain. ''We're wide awake now, though. We've had a cold shower on this topic.''
In May 2000, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Justice Department, which had sued Microsoft, alleging antitrust violations. The judge ordered Microsoft to be broken into two separate companies. Microsoft appealed the case, which is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, which must decide whether to take the case or send it back down to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
On Tuesday, Ballmer didn't elaborate on how exactly Microsoft has altered its political contribution strategy in this election year. However, the company has not avoided giving money to the same Democrats that have run the Justice Department and the White House for eight years.
In August, the company feted Pacific Northwest Democrats at a convention soiree in Los Angeles and, more importantly, donated $600,000 in cash and computer equipment to the convention.
The company said it donated a similar amount to the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, and co-hosted similar parties there.
In donating to political parties, however, the company has been leaning Republican, especially in ''soft money'' donations. According to records from the Federal Election Commission, National Republican election committees, such as those aiding House and Senate candidates, have received $941,708 from March 23, 1999, through July 11, 2000.
In approximately the same time period, National Democratic election committees received just $390,292.
FEC records show that Microsoft's independent political action committee has hedged its bets a bit more this election year, giving $195,500 to Democrats' congressional campaigns and $216,499 to the GOP's congressional candidates.
Ballmer, worth $15.5 billion according to Forbes magazine, gave to only two candidates this year, elections records show. Republican Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington received $1,000 from Ballmer, while Michigan Republican Sen. Spencer Abraham received $2,000. Ballmer also contributed $2,500 to the Federal Victory Fund, a nonpartisan conservative action committee.
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