Microsoft President Brad Smith explains how political contributions really work

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Microsoft president Brad Smith takes part in a roundtable discussion with US President Donald Trump and industry executives on reopening the country, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC on May 29, 2020.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

A top Microsoft executive defended the company’s approach to supporting political campaigns in a meeting with employees on Thursday, according to a transcript of the meeting that CNBC reviewed.

Microsoft President and legal chief Brad Smith said Microsoft is evaluating options for the Microsoft Political Action Committee (MSPAC), which employees criticized because it helped finance the campaigns of Congress members who supported Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Microsoft employees in the U.S. can give some of their income to the MSPAC, but have no direct say in which candidates it donates to. On Jan. 11 the company said it was putting donations on hold after the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt, when rioters flooded into the U.S. Capitol during the Electoral College vote count that formalized Joe Biden’s win. The MSPAC had donated to several Republican members of Congress who tried to delay the formal Electoral College vote count, despite the complete lack of evidence of widespread voting fraud.

Several other companies, including Amazon, Facebook and Google, also temporarily stopped political contributions after the events.

On Jan. 13 one Microsoft employee, Carmen Crincoli, called for the company to stop supporting members of Congress who voted against the Electoral College results, and to stop giving money directly to elected officials and candidates. He said if the company couldn’t do those things, it should close down MSPAC and ask that employees get involved with politics individually.

Smith, who articulates Microsoft’s position on political topics, addressed the complaints.

“The questions that are being considered are exactly I think what you would expect. Should the PAC suspend donations to the members who voted against the Electoral College? If so, for how long?” Smith said to employees on Thursday.

But he also gave an frank explanation of why the MSPAC was important to Microsoft’s interests:

“I can tell you it plays an important role. Not because the checks are big, but because the way the political process works. Politicians in the United States have events, they have weekend retreats, you have to write a check and then you’re invited and participate. So if you work in the government affairs team in the United States, you spend your weekends going to these events; you spend your evenings going to these dinners, and the reason you go is because the PAC writes a check.

“But out of that ongoing effort a relationship evolves and emerges and solidifies, and I can tell you as somebody who sometimes is picking up the phone, I’m sometimes calling members and asking for their help on green cards, or on visa issues, or help to get an employee or family member who is outside the United States during Covid back into the country because of an immigration restriction.

“Or the issues around national security, or privacy, or procurement reform. Or the tax issues that our finance team manages. And I can tell you, there are times when I call people who I don’t personally know, and somebody will say ‘you know, your folks have always shown up for me at my events. And we have a good relationship. Let me see what I can do to help you.'”

Microsoft declined to comment on Smith’s remarks, which were published earlier by Maciej Cegłowski, who runs the social bookmarking website Pinboard.

In 2020 hundreds of Facebook employees participated in a protest over the company’s decision to maintain a posts from former President Donald Trump, and in 2018 Google employees protested a contract the company had to supply cloud services to the Pentagon, prompting the company to not renew the contract.

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