ComputerWorld Documents Microsoft’s Lobbying in Massachusetts

Carol Sliwa at ComputerWorld has a hat trick of excellent stories just now on ODF in Massachusetts, based on over 300 emails secured under the Massachusetts Public Records Law (the local analogue of the Federal Freedom of Information Act), as well as research into lobbying records and reports.   The longest and in some ways most intriguing article focuses on Microsoft's lobbying efforts in Massachusetts, and on State CIO Louis Gutierrez's efforts to counter those efforts.  One of the two shorter articles (they will appear as side bars in the print issue) provides details on the various individuals - both Democrat and Republican - as well as associations that Microsoft hired in the last two years to work both sides of the aisle in Massachusetts.  The third and final article reports more narrowly on Massachusetts' decision in the summer of 2005 not to approve Microsoft's XML formats as an open standards.

The lobbbying article confirms a number of things I've written previously, including (long ago) that an amendment intended to rob the Information Technology Division (ITD) of much of its ability to set technology policy was intended to pressure the ITD to back off of ODF, and (most recently) that Brian Burke, the Microsoft Regional Director for Public Affairs, was spearheading that effort.  Overall, the lengthy article describes in detail how Microsoft sought to bring pressure to bear through its efforts to "educate" legislators in an effort to seek a reversal of a Massachusetts policy that threatened its highly profitable Office suite franchise.  

The article relies in large part on a back-channel email correspondence maintained between Massachusetts CIO Louis Gutierrez and Alan Yates, a general manager in Microsoft's worker product management group.  Yates, you may remember, was particularly visible as a Microsoft spokesman in late 2005.  The article includes a number of disclosures that will be of interest to anyone who has followed the ODF story.  For example, in one email, Yates admits that Burke was promoting the amendment, stating, "I am certain that Brian was involved," which Gutierrez not surprisingly found to be objectionable.  Sliwa continues:

But Yates claimed that Burke’s intention was “to have a ‘vehicle’ in the legislature” to address a policy that Microsoft viewed as “unnecessarily exclusionary.” Burke’s aim was “not specifically to transfer agency authority,” Yates wrote.

Presumably, this equates to promoting an amendment that could be used to threaten the ITD into backing down on its support for ODF.

Yates objected to the fact that its rivals were focusing on the ODF aspects of the ITD’s Enterprise Technical Reference Model rather than its overall open-standards focus.  You may recall that Microsoft did exactly the same.  Yates denies that Microsoft had authored the amendment, but I have been told by others in the past that Burke’s involvement was more hands-on than Yates contends in the ComputerWorld article.

The article goes on to describe ongoing negotiations between Gutierrez and Yates that led to Microsoft canceling additional lobbying activities, as well as discussions relating to how the development of plugins might alter the decisions of each party.

The lobbying side bar article indicates that Microsoft left little to chance in its efforts to get its point across on Beacon Hill.  Brian Burke listed some 96 separate pieces of legislation Microsoft wished him to attend to (in addition to the ITD’s business).  And Burke wasn’t the only person hired to help, based upon Sliwa’s review of public records:

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.

Nor was Microsoft without friends when it came to educating the smaller contingent of Republican legislators in Massachusetts.  One friend was Washington-based lobbying group Americans for Tax Reform to criticize ODF.  ATR is led by conservative activist Grover Norquist, a former registered federal lobbyist for Microsoft .  Sliwa reports that ATR wrote to Governor Mitt Romney 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.”  Sliwa goes on to note:

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.

Carol has done a fine bit of reporting with her stories, so I won’t seek to deflect any of the attention her story deserves by summarizing any more.  I’ve known about a number of aspects of her story that I haven’t been at liberty to report on before, and can confirm that everything she’s written squares with my own understanding of the facts.  It’s an important piece of reporting that I expect will reverberate for some time.

 Great job, Carol

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