Internal email: Microsoft suspends PAC donations temporarily following employee uproar

(GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Microsoft is temporarily halting political donations through its political action committee after facing a backlash from employees protesting lack of influence over which candidates and campaigns the organization supported.

Maciej Ceglowski, founder of social bookmarking site Pinboard, posted an internal email from Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Government Affairs Fred Humphries Jr. to members of MSPAC, the company’s political action committee, outlining changes coming to the organization. That includes a “brief hiatus” on political contributions that began on July 1 and will be in effect until the fall.

“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,” according to the email.

A Microsoft spokesman said the company does not comment on internal employee emails.

GeekWire reached out to Ceglowski, and we will update this story if we hear back. Ceglowski told Fast Company that he transcribed the message from a screenshot of the document sent by a Microsoft employee. The employee confirmed the document’s authenticity to Fast Company.

Last month, reports surfaced that a group of Microsoft employees lobbied co-workers to stop donating to MSPAC because they didn’t have influence over which candidates and campaigns the PAC supported. The employees argued that MSPAC used their money to support candidates that conflicted with important company values like diversity and inclusion.

In addition to shutting down contributions until the fall, MSPAC will form new employee advisory councils to increase transparency and give employees more of a voice in how the PAC contributions are spent, according to the document. Humphries promised members more communication from him and the Corporate, External and Legal Affairs group about MSPAC in the future.

According to the most recent disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission, dating back to the beginning of the year, MSPAC has contributed to representatives and campaigns on all sides of the political spectrum. Here are a few notable donations:

  • Microsoft’s PAC donated a combined $10,000 to the primary and general election campaigns for Republican Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. MSPAC also contributed $2,500 to a campaign committee for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat.
  • MSPAC donated to a number of U.S. congressional representatives from its home state of Washington including Democratic Rep. Suzan Delbene, a former Microsoft employee, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest ranking Republican in Congress.
  • The PAC donated $15,000 each to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senate Committee.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include more recent and accurate campaign contribution data.

Microsoft workers have recently spoken out about the company’s relationship with government organizations as well. The company faced internal strife over a $480 million contract it won to supply the U.S. Army with 100,000 HoloLens mixed reality headsets.

A group of employees last year implored Microsoft not to bid on the $10 billion “JEDI” cloud contract to refresh the technology infrastructure for the U.S. Department of Defense. Microsoft did bid on the contract, and now it is a finalist along with cloud rival Amazon.

Employees at big tech companies are speaking out more to persuade their companies to adopt strong stances on key issues. In May, more than 7,600 software engineers, managers, designers, and other Amazon workers signed an open letter to CEO Jeff Bezos and the Amazon board of directors asking the company to adopt a comprehensive climate change plan. Last November, a contingent of Google workers across the globe walked off the job to protest how the company handled sexual misconduct accusations against top executives.

After the memo hit the web, several Microsoft employees tweeted their approval of the company’s decision.

Here is the full text of the memo:

Update to MSPAC Members

The start of the fiscal year is bringing changes to our employee political action committee, or MSPAC. Today I’d like to share those changes with you.

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.

First, we are creating new advisory councils based on Employee Resource Groups and geographies to increase dialogue and transparency. These groups will play a role similar to the PAC’s Advisory Council, which provides feedback to the Operating Committee on their approach to contributions. We will announce the formation of the groups later this summer.

Second, while we take some time to align operations, I’ve implemented a brief hiatus for political contributions that began July 1 and will be in effect until the fall. Employees should anticipate one additional disclosure that will show the following contributions through the end of June. This giving reflects contributions to a bipartisan group of lawmakers on their work with us on a range of company priorities, including immigration and equality [!!], and policies to promote privacy, climate [!], trade and the Cloud.

Third, moving forward, you can look forward to more communication from CELA, and from me personally, about the MSPAC’s political giving. As a reminder, employees can engage on Yammer and advertised in-person meetings around campus to learn more about the MSPAC. Additionally, the MSPAC website provides regular updates on events and related activities.

In closing, I’d like to thank you for your support of MSPAC, which continues to play a key role in our ability to engage with our nation’s policy decision makers. MSPAC is made possible by the passion of our engaged employees. It is my goal to remain a trusted steward of our mission.

Fred Humphries Jr.
Corporate Vice President, US Government Affairs.

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