How Orrin Hatch forced Microsoft to play Beltway politics

In a 2000 speech to technology companies, Hatch called Microsoft “knuckle-headed and hard-nosed,” according to Wired magazine. “I have given [Microsoft] advice, and they don’t pay any attention to it.” In that same speech, Hatch warned: “If you want to get involved in business, you should get involved in politics.”

“The industry had an attitude that government should do what it needs to do but leave us alone,” one Hill technology staffer complained to Business Week at the time. “Their hands-off approach to Washington will come back to haunt them.”

After the Hatch hearings, Microsoft complied. Its PAC increased spending fivefold in each of the next two elections. In the 2010 elections, Microsoft’s PAC contributed $2.3 million to House and Senate candidates. The PAC has contributed the maximum $20,000 to each of Hatch’s last two campaigns.

Back before the antitrust case, Microsoft’s tiny lobbying contingent sat in the company’s local sales office in Chevy Chase. Since the Hatch hearings, Gates’ company has poured more than $100 million into K Street’s economy, hiring up members of congress and Capitol Hill staff, many of whom then became top fundraisers — such as Republican Jack Abramoff and Democrat Steve Elmendorf.