After "pausing" political giving to any politician who voted to overturn the 2020 election, Microsoft has clarified changes to the lobbying policy of its employee-funded PAC, doubling down on its original intention and changing gears with an eye toward funding impactful organizations.
Microsoft, along with most other major companies in the tech sector and plenty others, announced a halt to political donations in the chaotic wake of the capitol riots and subsequent partisan clashes over the legitimacy of the election.
At the time, Microsoft said that it often pauses donations during the transition to a new Congress, but in this case it would only resume them "after it assesses the implications of last week's events" and "consult[s] with employees."
Assessing and consulting can take a long time, especially in matters of allocating cash in politics, but Microsoft seems to have accomplished their goal in relatively short order. In a series of sessions over the last two weeks involving more than 300 employees who contribute to the PAC, the company arrived at a new strategy that reflects their priorities.
In a word, they're blacklisting any senator, representative, government official or organization that voted for or supported the attempt to overturn the election. Fortunately there doesn't seem to be a lot of grey area here, which simplifies the process somewhat. This restriction will remain in place until the 2022 election — which, frighteningly, happens next year.
In fact, as an alternative to donating to individual candidates and politicians in the first place, the PAC will establish a new fund to "support organizations that promote public transparency, campaign finance reform, and voting rights."
More details on this are forthcoming, but it's a significant change from direct support of candidates to independent organizations. One hardly knows what a candidate's fund goes to (Super Bowl ads this time of year), but giving half a million bucks to a group challenging voter suppression and gerrymandering in a hotly contested district can make a big difference. (Work like this on a large scale helped tip Georgia from red to blue, for instance, and it didn't happen overnight, or for free.)
There's even a hint of a larger change in the offing, as Microsoft's Corporate VP of U.S. Government Affairs Fred Humphries suggests in the blog post that "we believe there is an opportunity to learn and work together" with like-minded companies and PACs. If that isn't a sly invitation to create a coalition of the like-minded I don't know what is. (This paragraph previously attributed the post to Frank X. Shaw — my mistake, Shaw only promoted the new policy on Twitter.)
The company also will be changing the name of the PAC to the Microsoft Corporation Voluntary PAC to better communicate that it's funded by voluntary contributions from employees and stakeholders and isn't just a big corporate lobbying slush fund.
As we saw around the time of the original "pause," and indeed with many other actions in the tech industry over the last year, it's likely that one large company (in this case Microsoft) getting specific with its political moves will trigger more who just didn't want to be the first to go. It's difficult to predict exactly what the long-term ramifications of these changes will be (as they are still quite general and tentative) but it seems safe to say that the political funding landscape of the next election period will look quite a bit different from the last one.