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Microsoft is still donating to anti-LGBTQ lawmakers after pledging to change

Advocates say Microsoft’s actions have let down the LGBTQ community.

By Josh Israel - July 23, 2020
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE)

A year after taking a “hiatus” to “realign” its giving, Microsoft’s corporate political action committee has resumed funding anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant politicians.

A review of Microsoft PAC’s disbursements since July 2020 reveals that it has given more than $130,000 to lawmakers who received “0” scores from the Human Rights Campaign in its “Congressional Scorecard: Measuring Support for Equality in the 115th Congress” for voting against LGBTQ equality at every opportunity. Most of those legislators also oppose protecting undocumented young immigrants.

The technology giant has a long history of supporting LGBTQ rights. Its website proudly notes that Microsoft became the first Fortune 500 company to offer domestic partnership benefits to the same-sex partners of employees in 1993 and that it was among the earliest businesses to include “sexual orientation” in its corporate nondiscrimination policy. The Human Rights Campaign awarded it a 100% pro-equality score in its annual “Corporate Equality Index” this year.

It has also been a vocal advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, especially urging protections for the undocumented young people brought to the United States as kids known as “Dreamers.”

But for years, Microsoft’s corporate federal political action committee, MSPAC, has funded some of the most anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant people in Congress.

Last year, the company came under internal and external pressure to change this.

An LGBTQ-rights group called Zero for Zeros released research demonstrating that Microsoft and dozens of other generally pro-equality companies had given millions of dollars to the “worst of the worst” anti-LGBTQ politicians.

“LGBT employees, customers, and allies deserve to know who stands 100% with equality,” the group urged. “Allied companies should cut off all political contributions to any elected official who scores a zero on the HRC Congressional Scorecard and leads the charge against equality.”

Additionally, dozens of Microsoft employees objected to the company’s support of politicians who have fought against LGBTQ people and immigrants and to its opaque donation process.

“MSPAC is antithetical to everything I love about @Microsoft’s culture and values,” one employee tweeted in June 2019. “Knowing that this organization supports politicians who are actively attempting to subvert our democracy is infuriating.”

A year ago, Microsoft told employees it was rethinking its PAC giving and suspending donations.

“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. Our operations are realigning to reflect that feedback,” Microsoft’s corporate vice president for U.S. government affairs Fred Humphries Jr. wrote.

“Microsoft was the first company we talked to,” Lane Hudson, campaign manager for Zero for Zeros, told Fast Company days later. “The discussions that we had with them had an impact, and it’s an impact that will last throughout their process of evaluating how they’re going to run their PAC.” Microsoft confirmed to the outlet that it “had conversations with the group.”

But when the PAC resumed making contributions a few months later, little had changed.

On Oct. 16, 2019, it gave $1,000 each to Reps. Andy Barr (R-KY), Jim Banks (R-IN), Drew Ferguson (R-GA), and Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO). Each had a 0% Human Rights Campaign score and had voted against the American Dream and Promise Act — the House bill to protect Dreamers — four months earlier.

The bill passed in the House, but has been blocked by the Republican Senate majority.

Since then, the PAC has sent thousands more to six of the anti-LGBTQ officials identified by Zero for Zeros as “worst of the worst.” It sent $2,500 to Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) through his Common Values PAC; $3,000 to Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) through his Arkansas for Leadership PAC; $7,500 to Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT); $7,500 to Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE); $2,500 to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) through his Responsibility and Freedom Work PAC; and $2,000 to Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA).

In total, Microsoft sent at least $135,500 in contributions to lawmakers with 0% ratings on LGBTQ issues since completing its supposed realignment. Just two of the anti-LGBTQ recipients in the House of Representatives had voted to protect Dreamers last year.

A Microsoft spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the company believes “to make progress on the issues that matter to our customers and to our business, we must engage with candidates who hold a range of views. Given the breadth of our policy agenda, it’s unlikely we’ll agree with any candidate on every issue, but we’ve learned that engagement—even when individuals hold different positions—is an essential part of achieving progress. For example, someone leading efforts to enact new privacy laws may have different views from us on education or immigration.”

The statement noted that “where a candidate is working to advance an issue we care about, we’ll work with them on that issue, but we’ll also engage directly to make our case on the issue where we disagree” and claimed that the company applies “an even higher standard when the disagreement goes beyond issues and includes a disagreement on values. In some limited circumstances — where we believe an official is essential to progress on a crucial issue — we may make a contribution even when we have a fundamental disagreement on other things. Each time, we also engage directly to highlight our concerns and advocate for change.”

But Zero for Zeros believes Microsoft’s actions have let down the LGBTQ community.

“In 2019, Microsoft came forward as a corporate leader when they publicly announced they were going to review their PAC spending due to employee pressure to specifically review LGBT rights. Microsoft was hailed as a champion of equality for this action. This was a great first step,” a spokesperson said in an email. “Now that they have completed their review and continue to fund anti-LGBT members of Congress, what does that say about their values? Pro-equality companies cannot just show up for LGBT people when it’s marketable.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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