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Microsoft President defends controversial donations to US politicians

Microsoft Logo at Ignite
Microsoft Logo at Ignite (Image credit: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft President Brad Smith discussed Microsoft's donations to politicians through its MSPAC.
  • Smith says "you have to write a check and then you're invited and participate" when speaking about political donations.
  • Microsoft recently paused donations through the MSPAC in response to criticism from its employees.

Updated Jan. 25, 7:00 a.m. ET: Microsoft released the transcript of President Brad Smith's comments (opens in new tab) and clarified that it will announce a decision regarding further donations on February 15, 2021.

Microsoft President Brad Smith defended Microsoft's donations to political campaigns through its Microsoft Political Action Committee (MSPAC) in a meeting with employees on Thursday, January 21, 2021. These statements come from a meeting that has been transcribed by Pinboard and reviewed by CNBC. Smith states that donating to politicians is "the way the political process works" and that working with politicians benefits Microsoft in several areas.

Microsoft employees can donate some of their income to the MSPAC, but don't directly influence where funds are donated. It came under fire from several Microsoft employees who criticized the company for donating to politicians that had gone against the certifying the Electoral College results of President Biden. Smith shared a tweet on January 4, 2021 about the importance of the peaceful transition of power, but people accused Microsoft of hypocrisy.

Following criticism, Microsoft announced that it is pausing political donations through the MSPAC. Microsoft normally pauses donations during the first quarter of a new U.S. Congress, but in this case, Microsoft is also taking time to consult with employees and consider recent events.

In a meeting with Microsoft employees that has been transcribed and saved by Maciej Ceglowski on Pinboard, Smith discussed why Microsoft donates to politicians.

He said to employees at the meeting, "The questions that are being considered are exactly I think what you would expect. Should the PAC suspend donations to the members who voted against the Electoral College? If so, for how long?"

He also gave a long answer that bluntly explains how donating to politicians helps Microsoft:

I can tell you it plays an important role. Not because the checks are big, but because the way the political process works. Politicians in the United States have events, they have weekend retreats, you have to write a check and then you're invited and participate. So if you work in the government affairs team in the United States, you spend your weekends going to these events; you spend your evenings going to these dinners, and the reason you go is because the PAC writes a check.But out of that ongoing effort a relationship evolves and emerges and solidifies, and I can tell you as somebody who sometimes is picking up the phone, I'm sometimes calling members and asking for their help on green cards, or on visa issues, or help to get an employee or family member who is outside the United States during Covid back into the country because of an immigration restriction.Or the issues around national security, or privacy, or procurement reform. Or the tax issues that our finance team manages. And I can tell you, there are times when I call people who I don't personally know, and somebody will say 'you know, your folks have always shown up for me at my events. And we have a good relationship. Let me see what I can do to help you.'

Microsoft has not issued a statement or comment in response to Smith's statements at this time.

Sean Endicott
Sean Endicott

Sean Endicott is the news writer for Windows Central. If it runs Windows, is made by Microsoft, or has anything to do with either, he's on it. Sean's been with Windows Central since 2017 and is also our resident app expert. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com.

12 Comments
  • Yes, everyone should only be able to donate to whoever we say they can donate. That is how America works.
  • Well I mean... When a sizable portion of your super pac is made of up employee/shareholder donations, then you should probably take the input of those employee/shareholders on how their money is being used
  • Most aren't complaining. It's a small subset of nonshareholder and non employees. It's the same people who scream to boycott Goya and MyPillow.
  • Source? Or just speculation?
  • If the employees don't like where the donations are going in the superpac, they can make their own donations directly to the candidates of their choice. They would still have the same problem since there is no way to really know what the candidates will do once they take the office.
  • The American political system at its finest lol
    Let's hope the new president can correct all the damage the last one did making them the laughing stock of the world
  • What like a significant peace deal in the Middle East? Or the lowest unemployment for 50 years?
    Roughly half the people of the country supported him. Not everything he did was bad (that’s a childish assessment) It’s this toxic stance which is causing such division. When will the left hand of politics and its supporters stop being so vindictive and spiteful? Democrats have their man in the White House now. Let’s concentrate on new and progressive things- not dwelling on what was. The world is tired of the US toxicity. I wish it would stop bleeding into the rest of the worlds media. Just get on with it. If MS are taking staffs money, then they should should ask for opinion. If not, just use the companies money - they have lots of it.
  • It's activities like this why America can do nothing to help its people and has been leaving them to rot for decades.
    let alone the years of violent imperialism it's been doing throughout the world since its Inception making the bourgeoisie Richer by oppressing others.
    But anyway yeah so Microsoft is buying power. And this is why all public and private companies should be nationalized or turned into worker coops
  • No company should be nationalized ever. Governments are inefficient, inept, and inherently corrupting (not saying everyone in government is corrupt -- certainly there are some good and caring people there who want to do the right thing, but the incentives are corrupting). Private companies, on the other hand, are incentivized to turn a profit, which means making things efficiently that their customers want. Yes, they can twist this around by trying to push costs off on others (e.g., polluting), but in general, the incentives driving private people and companies are much more positive than those driving politicians and governments.
  • Microsoft didn't use to have a PAC.
    Just one lawyer in DC to represent them.
    Then they were taken to court on claims that history has proven specious.
    (Who will even touch a consumer OS without a browser or a media player?)
    After escaping a gutting at the cost of a few billion (passed on to consumers) they set up a lobbying organization second to none. Every politician in Congress, regardless of party, gets free PCs, free software, and dedicated support. Plus some spending money on the side. Note that in the calls to break up big tech nobody mentions Microsoft.
    As Smith says: That's how the political system works. You pay the geld, you get to run your business in peace.
    The payments aren't politics, just "good" necessary business practice.
  • Agreed. And another example of why governments should be small and stay out of the way of business and our personal lives to the greatest extent possible. When they get involved, they break things, increase costs, and generally make everything worse.
  • Exactly. We don't have enough libertarians with influence. The original design was to have a SMALL federal government that only operated part-time. Now it has FAR too much power, is WAY too big, and is a CAREER.