IT vendors cast votes with their checkbooks

WASHINGTON (12/22/2003) - With the Democratic Party a month from the first caucus in the presidential nominating process, the high-tech industry has cast a vote that so far favors President George W. Bush, along with a select group of influential members of the U.S. Congress.

Threatened by the specter of more regulation and higher taxes, IT hardware and software manufacturers and the industry associations that lobby for them here in Washington, D.C. have donated nearly as much money to the Bush campaign as to all of the Democratic candidates combined. Political action committees in the IT sector this year have given Bush more than US$1.2 million, compared with $387,886 for Democratic front-runner Howard Dean, according to the most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission.

Of the $113 million donated since 1998 to political candidates for federal office by individuals, companies and associations in the IT sector, roughly half has gone to Democrats and half to Republicans. However, a Computerworld review of FEC data shows that two large vendor associations and the prominent member companies of other influential associations have given more than $380,000 to five key lawmakers who have taken leadership roles on issues such as IT security regulation and federal IT acquisition policy.

Those lawmakers are Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee; Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee; Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee; Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who represents tech-dominated Silicon Valley; and Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), chairman of the House subcommittee on technology policy.

Putnam has threatened to introduce security legislation next spring if the private sector doesn't improve IT security on its own.

The IT vendor associations that have formed PACs include TechNet and the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA).

Those that haven't formed PACs but whose member companies have made sizable, independent donations to key lawmakers include the Business Software Alliance (BSA), the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA), the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Some industry executives view the contributions as a way to gain access to Congress. The groups in question and the lawmakers they support, however, claim that the money doesn't set the agenda but supports candidates who share their philosophy about the roles of government and industry.

Dave Morin, a spokesman for Davis, said the IT sector supports Davis because of his belief that government should play an enabling role and not an inhibiting one when it comes to regulating the industry. "Companies and associations support members with the best policy," he said. "Chickens don't give money to Col. Sanders."

Bob Dix, Putnam's staff director and a longtime associate of Davis', said that "the reason people support (Davis) is not because he's in anybody's hip pocket but because they support his economic agenda."

Putnam has also asserted his independence, said Dix. During a Dec. 17 meeting of the Corporate Information Security Working Group, Putnam made it clear that his committee wouldn't align itself with the agendas set by the industry working groups formed at the National Cyber Security Summit on Dec. 3.

Harris Miller, president of the Arlington, Va.-based ITAA, made no apologies for his organization's role in the political process. "ITAA makes PAC contributions to support members in both parties who see the future of the Internet based on competition, not regulation, and who advocate positions on issues we consider important to the health and vitality of the IT industry," he said.

TechNet, whose PAC has donated nearly $305,000 to lawmakers since 1998 and has also made donations to the BSA and EIA, didn't respond to requests for comment.

Shannon Feaster, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based ITIC, a lobbying group whose 29 member companies are some of the largest vendors in the IT industry, said that the ITIC doesn't give money to PACs.

ITIC member companies, however, have independently donated more than $85,000 to key lawmakers.

Andrea Hofelich, a spokeswoman for Collins, claimed that because the senator has focused mostly on the government's own IT acquisition programs, campaign contributions haven't been an issue. Collins "always approaches the issues with an open mind toward what's best for the taxpayer," she said.

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