Microsoft trying to "pack the court?"

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From Reuters via Yahoo.

Saturday October 16 12:02 AM ET Microsoft Attempt To Cut Justice Funding Draws Fire

By David Lawsky

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A newspaper report that Microsoft Corp (Nasdaq:MSFT - news). lobbyists and allies are pressing Congress to reduce funding for the Justice Department antitrust division sparked anger among antitrust lawyers Friday.

``It's like the Mafia trying to defund the FBI,'' said a prominent member of the Washington antitrust bar, who asked not to be identified, condemning the lobbying effort.

The Washington Post reported that Microsoft representatives have urged House and Senate members to cut $9 million from President Clinton's proposed budget for the antitrust division in fiscal 2000.

The administration sought $114.3 million for fiscal 2000, which began Oct 1. The Senate appropriated $112.3 million, while the House allocated only $105.2 million.

The Justice Department antitrust division has been pursuing a landmark antitrust case against Microsoft, which it alleges abused monopoly power it holds in the Windows operating system.

A spokesman for Microsoft acknowledged that Microsoft had been speaking to members of Congress.

``We have certainly been talking to members who asked about this issue and discussed our serious concerns with the way the (Department of Justice) has handled our case,'' said Rick Miller of Microsoft. But he said cutting funds for the Justice Department was ``not a major priority of Microsoft.''

The Justice Department issued a cautious statement.

``We think that the Justice Department's law enforcement budget should be based on the needs of law enforcement, not based on a single interest,'' said Gina Talamona, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, responding to the newspaper report.

Jan McDavid, a lawyer with the Washington firm of Hogan & Hartson who chairs the American Bar Association's antitrust section, pointed a reporter to the section's policy that it ''opposes the use of the congressional budget and appropriations process to intervene in or influence ongoing antitrust enforcement matters.''

Albert Foer, president of the American Antitrust Institute, said in a statement that ``Microsoft's salvo is clearly an attempt to leverage its position through intimidation.''

Both the House and Senate have completed work on an appropriations bill that includes money for the Justice Department.

A conference committee must decide which level between those two amounts should be appropriated.

The Post also reported that Microsoft sponsored an all-expense paid trip for a number of think tank representatives. The trip included a baseball game and dinner at a restaurant.

One of those who traveled was Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. The Post said Norquist, a longtime supporter of Microsoft during the antitrust case, got $40,000 in lobbying payments from Microsoft for the last six months of 1998.

-- Joshua Tauber, October 16, 1999