Microsoft resumes political spending despite ongoing employee concerns

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Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Microsoft has quietly started making political contributions again after suspending donations in July to address employee concerns.

Federal election reports reveal Microsoft resumed political spending in October through its political action committee. The company says it is now taking feedback from an employee advisory group to inform political spending decisions.

Since October, Microsoft has donated sums ranging from a few hundred to $5,000 to a number of Congressional candidates across the country and other political action committees. Republicans and Democrats have received Microsoft money this fall, including a $1,000 gift to the campaign of Rep. Adam Schiff, who is leading the House impeachment Inquiry into President Donald Trump.

The online bookmarking tool Pinboard first reported on Microsoft’s renewed political spending. In a Twitter thread, Pinboard connected a donation to a military-focused political action committee to Microsoft’s successful bid on a big Pentagon contract this year. Microsoft donated $5,000 donation to the American Defense and Military PAC, a Seattle-based committee created by Rep. Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington. Smith is Chair of the House Armed Services Committee and an active voice on military issues.


Microsoft donated $3,000 to the Majority Committee PAC, which California Rep. Kevin McCarthy created to raise money for his Republican colleagues.

This summer, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Government Affairs Fred Humphries Jr. sent an email notifying members of the company’s political action committee about a “brief hiatus” on political contributions from July 1 to the fall.

“We have heard from many employees that greater transparency is needed when it comes to MSPAC policies, giving criteria, and how decisions are made in terms of the candidates we support,” the email said. “Our operations are realigning to reflect that feedback.”

A group of Microsoft employees had been asking their colleagues to stop donating to the PAC because they didn’t have influence over which candidates and campaigns the committee supported. The employees argued that MSPAC used their money to support candidates that conflicted with important company values like diversity and inclusion.

Paul Montgomery, a senior software engineer for Microsoft, was one of the employees concerned about the PAC’s donations. He told GeekWire he was surprised to learn that the PAC had started spending again.

“I’d like to see leadership take accountability,” Montgomery said. “Either they need to ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to [diversity and inclusion] or they need to acknowledge that they are enabling non-D&I movements.”

During the hiatus, Microsoft established an employee advisory council to work with the political action committee on spending decisions, a spokesperson for the company said. The employees were appointed to the council for a one-year term.

Prior to the hiatus, Microsoft’s PAC had donated a combined $10,000 to the primary and general election campaigns for Republican Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and $2,500 to a campaign committee for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat.

The PAC also donated $15,000 each to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senate Committee.

Miguel de Icaza — a Distinguished Engineer who joined Microsoft when it acquired his startup Xamarin — pledged to restart efforts to “starve the PAC” on Twitter.

Microsoft and other big tech companies face mounting pressure from employees to take a stand on political issues. The new wave of employee activism has convinced some companies, like Google and Chef, to cancel government contracts.

Microsoft has taken a different tact. The company is resolved to continue providing technology to government agencies, even when the Trump administration’s policies go against the company’s values.

Microsoft President Brad Smith speaking at Seattle’s Town Hall in September. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Microsoft has not buckled under employee pressure cancel contracts with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, for example, despite being a vocal critic of Trump’s immigration policies. Microsoft sued the federal government for moving to rescind DACA, a program that allows immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to work in the country. That case is currently being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Microsoft President Brad Smith explained the company’s position on employee activism in a Town Hall interview with GeekWire in September.

“We care about these issues enough that we are committed to outcomes, to change, to getting things done even if it means that some days you have to deal with the world of politics,” he said. “Politics is often about pragmatism and not principle alone.”

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