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Microsoft Defends Ties to Ralph Reed; Critics Want Conservative Consultant Fired
Published on Wednesday, April 27, 2005 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Microsoft Defends Ties to Ralph Reed
Critics Want Conservative Consultant Fired
by Charles Pope
 

WASHINGTON -- Microsoft Corp. is paying social conservative Ralph Reed $20,000 a month as a consultant, triggering complaints that the well-connected Republican with close ties to the White House and to evangelist Pat Robertson may have persuaded the company to oppose gay rights legislation.

Reed, who got his start in politics by running the Christian Coalition for Robertson and who had a senior role in President Bush's 2004 campaign, is a leading figure in the social conservative movement that spearheaded opposition to gay marriage, stem cell research, abortion, gambling and other issues.

Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray said the company has hired Reed on several occasions to provide advice on "trade and competition issues." He said Reed's relationship as a consultant with the software company extends back "several years."

Reed's history with Microsoft, coupled with Microsoft's reversal on a gay rights bill for the state, unleashed a vocal backlash against the company yesterday. The bill, which would have made it illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in housing, employment and insurance, failed in the state Senate last week by a single vote. Supporters said that Microsoft's shift tipped the scales.

Mr. Reed's policies are not the policies of Washingtonians, nor should they be the policies of a world-class leader like Microsoft," said George Cheung, executive director of Equal Rights Washington, a Seattle group whose stated mission is "ending discrimination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered persons in every corner of the state."

He added, "Microsoft's reputation as a fair-minded company is rapidly slipping away from them, and if Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer are really interested in running a fair-minded company, they would fire Ralph Reed today."

Invoices show that Microsoft is currently paying Reed's firm, Century Strategies, $20,000 a month.

Murray confirmed that the invoices, which were first reported by the Web log Americablog, were authentic.

But he disputed suggestions that Reed had any part in the company's decision to withdraw its support for the gay rights legislation.

"Microsoft has worked with Century Strategies for the past several years on trade and competition issues," Murray said. "Century Strategies has never advised Microsoft on any social policy issues -- nothing related to anti-discrimination legislation."

Though the company publicly supported a gay anti-discrimination measure last year, Murray said the change in company philosophy came in December after an internal review of the bill.

Microsoft, at the forefront of corporate gay rights for decades, came under fire from gay rights groups, politicians and its own employees after it withdrew its support for the bill.

Many of the critics accused the company of bowing to pressure from a prominent local evangelical church.

The decision to take a neutral stance this year "was more about the fact that it was a short session and figuring out what we were going to look at that had the most direct impact on our industry," the company said last week.

Reed, who currently is a Republican candidate for Georgia's lieutenant governor, could not be reached last night. The firm's Web page says Century Strategies "is one of the nation's leading public affairs and public relations firms," providing "consulting services to Fortune 500 corporations, members of the United States House and Senate leadership, numerous Governors, and the campaign of President George W. Bush."

Whatever Reed's role for Microsoft, he is just the latest in a long and large stable of high-priced lobbying and consulting talent retained by Microsoft.

In the most recent lobbying disclosure on file, Microsoft reported spending $5.4 million on lobbying in the first six months of 2004.

Nor is Reed the first prominent Republican hired by the company. Records show that Microsoft paid Grover Norquist $60,000 in 1999. Norquist is founder of Americans For Tax Reform, an influential conservative group that has close ties with the White House and with Republican leaders in Congress.

The company also hired Barbour, Griffin & Rogers at a cost of $180,000. One of the firm's principals, Haley Barbour, is the former head of the Republican National Committee who is now governor of Mississippi.

Public interest groups that track business influence and lobbying in Washington, D.C., said it isn't surprising that Microsoft -- or any major company -- would sign up a Republican operative.

Republican leaders, most notably House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, have told companies that they need to shift business to Republican-leaning firms or lobbyists if they want a reception on Capitol Hill. The initiative is called the K Street Project, after the street in Washington, D.C., where many lobbyists have offices.

"It's inarguable that the K Street Project has been effective getting Republican lobbyists and consultants hired for high-profile assignments," said Steve Weiss, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent watchdog group.

"Organizations and companies know that Republicans are watching."

Ironically, Reed has come under fire from conservatives for actively pursuing his campaign and consulting business. In addition to Microsoft, Verizon, Enron and other well-known corporations have retained Reed's company.

The Rev. Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, told The New York Times earlier this month that Reed's business ties have raised concerns. "Most of us in the movement are where we are because we believe in what we are doing," Wildmon told the paper. "I don't know any of us trying to get rich."

Despite suspicions of Reed's influence on Microsoft, the sponsor of the anti-discrimination bill, state Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said he doubted that Reed was involved with it.

"I believe it's a lot less sinister than it seems," he said last night. "It seems to me the company was not prepared to handle a hot issue in the middle of the culture war. They were caught off guard."

Murray, who said his relations with Microsoft were generally cool, said he believed the company's public opposition was "clumsiness rather than maliciousness."

©1996-2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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