A column last week by David Ignatius ["Hardball and Windows," op-ed, Oct. 19] misrepresented Microsoft's efforts to raise concerns about the Justice Department's behavior during the congressional appropriations process. I am writing to set the record straight.
Contrary to Ignatius's column, Microsoft does not and has not advocated "cutting funding" for the antitrust division's budget. Both the Senate and House bills provided significant increases over current funding levels.
Microsoft participated in this process by providing information to members on our experience with certain actions by the antitrust division outside the current lawsuit. We also suggested to a handful of members that the smaller increase proposed by the House seemed more reasonable than the Senate's larger increase. In the end, the conferees compromised, approving an amount closer to the Senate figure.
Throughout this process, Microsoft's primary concern has not been the funding level approved for the antitrust division. The Microsoft investigation and the District Court trial phase are essentially over -- the case has been submitted to the judge, and findings are expected any week now. Whatever budget figure is approved for the antitrust division, it will have no impact on the Microsoft case.
Our goal in talking to members of Congress was very simple: to call attention to what many observers believe is inappropriate behavior by the government. There is troubling evidence that a handful of companies directly lobbied the government to start a taxpayer-funded lawsuit on behalf of Microsoft's business competitors, not consumers. Members of Congress have expressed concern that antitrust division officials have urged other nations to join in the attack against Microsoft. And members of Congress have expressed concern over comments by the department's lead trial lawyer in a foreign newspaper describing how foreign citizens could file class action lawsuits against Microsoft.
Reasonable people can disagree over the wisdom of the government's attack on Microsoft -- that is for the court to decide, in what will inevitably be a long and complicated judicial process. Reasonable people can disagree over the appropriate funding level for the antitrust division. But it's hard to see how anyone could argue that an American company does not have the right to share its concerns about the behavior of a federal government agency with members of Congress.
Indeed, Microsoft's competitors have hardly been shy about lobbying their self-interested positions. Over the past four years, multibillion-dollar companies such as Netscape, Sun, Oracle and AOL have lobbied Congress and the administration about their self-interested anti-Microsoft agenda. As we learned in the trial, Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale met privately with Justice Department officials a half-dozen times to lobby for government intervention against Microsoft, including the now-infamous private breakfast with Joel Klein at Barksdale's home just weeks before the lawsuit was filed.
As Milton Friedman has said, Silicon Valley appears to have a "suicidal impulse" in lobbying for short-sighted government intervention that could threaten the long-term future of America's extraordinary high-tech economy. But so long as Microsoft's competitors are pursuing their anti-Microsoft agenda in Washington, surely Microsoft has a right to defend itself as well.
The writer is director of federal government affairs for the Microsoft Corp.