Nearly a month after the U.S. Capitol building riot, Microsoft said Friday it will suspend campaign contributions to any member of Congress who voted to object to the results of the 2020 presidential election.
It’s the strongest move thus far by the Redmond software company in response to the chaos that engulfed the Capitol Jan. 6 — although some observers, including some current and former Microsoft employees, don’t think it goes far enough.
The suspension, which is limited to the 2022 election cycle, also targets state officials and organizations that “supported such objections or suggested the election should be overturned,” said Fred Humphries, corporate vice president of U.S. government affairs, in an email posted Friday on the Microsoft blog.
The company also announced two related initiatives: One would let employees contribute to work on policies focused on “the preservation and promotion of democracy,” and another to work with other companies and organizations to use campaign contributions “to strengthen democracy,” Humphries said in the blog.
The announcement follows Microsoft’s decision last month to pause all campaign contributions and reevaluate policies for its political action committee, or PAC.
Friday’s announcement drew praise from some critics who had demanded Microsoft join other firms, including Amazon, that had already cut off funds to the 147 U.S. lawmakers who objected to certifying President Joe Biden’s Electoral College win.
“This is a great example of not just Corporate leadership but of civic leadership,” tweeted Steve Schmidt, a nationally known former Republican strategist who earlier had harshly criticized Microsoft for not cutting off funding immediately.
In an interview later Friday, Schmidt, a co-founder of The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump group, said Microsoft’s decision shows that political actions have “consequences” and “that the market is working.”
But some Microsoft employees took issue with Friday’s decision for being only temporary.
“What comes after 2022?” asked Seattle resident Paul Chapman, a Microsoft group program manager who says he is one of more than 100 employees pushing the company to change its PAC policies. “Is the Microsoft PAC going to start contributing to these candidates regardless of whether or not they’ve changed their behavior and statements?”
Carmen Crincoli, another Microsoft employee who has criticized the company’s political contributions, took issue with the lack of specifics in Friday’s announcement. “I am both encouraged about the support for democracy, and distraught at the utter lack of concrete change they committed to,” Crincoli tweeted.
Asked if Microsoft might extend the suspension beyond the 2022 election cycle, a company spokesperson said, “We will continue to evolve our criteria and make thoughtful contribution decisions based on that criteria.”
Of 36 large corporations that suspended contributions to Congressional “objectors”, six firms, including Microsoft, suspended contributions through the 2022 cycle, two suspended them a year or less and the rest provided no timeline, according to survey by CNN.
Chapman and others also complained that Microsoft took too long to act. “A number of other companies pretty quickly said that they were going to end donations and contributions to politicians and candidates … who supported the insurrection,” Chapman said. “Microsoft took three weeks to do that.”
Microsoft officials have said their cautious approach was necessary to gather internal feedback about the company’s PAC, which is funded with voluntary donations by Microsoft workers, family members and shareholders, not with any corporate money.
In recent weeks, Microsoft “held six listening sessions with interested employees to have a dialogue and listen,” Humphries said in the blog post.
Crincoli called the explanation about needing time for employee feedback “optics,” and that Microsoft was trying “to couch [the decision] in terms of being about employee sentiment versus leadership sentiment.”
Humphries said the company would share more details soon about the initiatives.
Jacob Grumbach, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Washington and an expert in campaign finance, shared employees’ frustration. He said the suspension’s vagueness and limited time scale meant it was “an extremely small step in the right direction, that should be met with some tepid enthusiasm, but [also] some warranted skepticism.”
But one former Microsoft executive, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, said the limited nature of the move reflected political realities. Though the executive wished Microsoft had been “unequivocal about ‘if you voted to overturn the vote we’re never giving you another step, ever,'” the company is aware that in two years “Republicans could retake control [of Congress], so the fact that [Microsoft] is doing this at all — there’s definitely some courage to it.”
Schmidt, while agreeing that Microsoft had yet to “flesh out” its initiatives, was also less concerned by the 2022 time frame than some other critics.
“Look, I’m not a fan of the expiry within two years,” Schmidt said in the interview Friday. “But I don’t think that within two years’ time, it will be possible for any organization that makes the right decision — which Microsoft made today — to say that, you know, the penalty box time is up for those members who voted … to overturn the results of the elections that had been certified by the states.”