Press Box

Bork Borks Microsoft

In his May 1 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed arguing for the dismemberment of Microsoft, Judge Robert H. Bork rips the software company for the lobbying campaign it has waged against the government’s antitrust case. He writes:

[Microsoft] is working assiduously for a political reversal of its legal loss. It is hard to walk through the Capitol without tripping over Microsoft’s lobbyists–or to read magazines and newspapers without finding vehement columns in its defense from public-interest groups, often with undisclosed financial support from the company. There is so much Microsoft money flowing through the system that the danger for nonpoliticized law is very real.

Bork’s diatribe against the politicization of the law by corporate money should be required reading for … the Project to Promote Competition and Innovation in the Digital Age–ProComp–the organization identified in Judge Bork’s Journal Op-Ed as his employer.

What is ProComp? It’s an industry group whose director, Mitchell Pettit, offered this mission statement in 1998 when it was founded: “Our goal is to get Justice to file an antitrust lawsuit and win it.” That sounds suspiciously like politicizing the law, doesn’t it?

Who is Mitchell Pettit? Pettit, a former Bob Dole aide, is a Washington lawyer who has lobbied for both Netscape and Sun Microsystems.

Who is ProComp? Netscape, Sun Microsystems, and Oracle were founding supporters of ProComp. (Bork’s bio note also mentions the judge’s history as a Netscape consultant.) ProComp’s Web site also lists these supporters: American Airlines, American Society of Travel Agents, Computer and Communications Industry Association, Corel, Preview Travel, Software Publishers Associations, the Air Transport Association, the SABRE Group, Sybase, and worldweb.net. In other words, Microsoft’s main competitors minus IBM.

Who else is ProComp? Sorry, they’d rather not say. From the Web site: “There are a number of companies and associations involved, some of whom prefer to remain anonymous. This speaks volumes about the power of Microsoft. People are very concerned about how the power wielded by a single company could dramatically impact their businesses, now and in the future.” Is this an example of the sort of stealth lobbying Judge Bork abhors?

What does ProComp do? From the ProComp Web site again: “Our focus right now is on education. We are actively working to educate the public and policymakers on the importance of maintaining competition and consumer choice in the electronic marketplace.” One possible translation: What ProComp does is pay writers such as Judge Bork to compose vehement anti-Microsoft columns and place them in influential magazines and newspapers such as the Journal. Another: It hires lobbyists to beat up on Microsoft. According to the Washington Post, some ProComp supporters pay dues of $250,000 a year and its lobbyists briefed members of Congress with a slide show urging them to encourage the Justice Department to file an antitrust suit against Microsoft.

How much have ProComp and its members spent on lobbying? According to the Post, ProComp spent $700,000 in 1998, and Netscape, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, and American Online spent a combined total of $5.1 million that year. Microsoft spent $3.7 million.

What else does ProComp do? It recruits new members on this Web page and encourages them to write letters to the Justice Department and Congress in support of ProComp’s goals.

Who else works for ProComp? The firm of McGuiness & Holch registered as lobbyists for ProComp in 1998, according to Legal Times.

What do lobbyists do? They loiter the halls of Congress and trip lawmakers.

What do members of ProComp do in their spare time? According to the Washington Post, “Netscape, Sun Microsystems and Oracle, three of Microsoft’s biggest competitors, spend heavily on lobbying and campaign contributions.” In other words, they send enough money flowing through the system to politicize the law.

Inspired by Judge Bork’s paean to transparency and the evils of politicizing the law, let me provide this full disclosure. I am deputy editor of Slate, a Webzine that attempts to influence politicians, the legal establishment, and even voters on matters of public policy but almost never succeeds. Finally, Microsoft owns Slate and I am long in Microsoft stock. Way long. Way, way long.