Page Two

By Caron Carlson  |  Posted 2005-05-09 Print this article Print

Companies also spend millions of dollars yearly in fees to belong to industry associations that lobby for them. While several industries, including telecommunications, have witnessed a recent reduction in the number of these groups, IT continues to produce more trade groups, and large companies sometimes belong to dozens at a time.

For example, Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., belongs to the Business Software Alliance, Computer Systems Policy Project, Information Technology Industry Council, TechNet, Information Technology Association of America, SemiConductor Industry Association and an array of broader business interest groups, including the American Electronics Association, National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The companies contacted for this story would not disclose the number of trade associations they belong to or the amount they spend on annual membership, but, in 2003, those associations alone spent $28.6 million on lobbying.

Lobbying resources buy access to lawmakers and other public officials, something the industry seeks more of each year as the governments interest in technology grows. Computers and the Internet present an expanding list of constituent concerns, including spam, spyware and ID theft. On these technology-specific issues, most industry lobbying aims to forestall laws or regulations that could burden the industry and its fast pace of innovation.

"As policy-makers become more interested in what we do, theres always the danger that they will do something harmful to innovation or to the growth of the industry," ITAAs Miller said. "The mind-set still is that the government which governs best governs least."

User advocates do not always agree, however, particularly on network security matters. In the last Congress, outlawing spam was high on the agenda, and user advocates urged lawmakers to enact an opt-in provision for commercial e-mail. The industry opposed the opt-in approach and lobbied to prevent stringent regulation. In the end, Congress passed the CAN-SPAM Act in late 2003 with broad industry support, but users receive more spam today than ever before.

"It is clear that a spam bill would not have passed without the technology industry saying, Yes, this is the right thing to do," said Kenneth DeGraff, policy advocate at Consumers Union here. "They unfortunately pushed for a weak bill that has not served consumers. They won, but they didnt solve the problem."

In a similar vein, legislative initiatives to require tighter network security measures have brought strong opposition from the industry, raising questions among some security advocates about the merit of the expanding IT lobby.

"I think that this money could be better spent on improving their products than on trying to persuade Congress not to legislate [requirements] to improve their products," said Alan Paller, director of research at The SANS Institute, in Bethesda, Md.

As pre-emptive lobbying continues to grow, so do lobbying efforts that aim to reap the benefits of government action, and, in this case, it isnt always the government that governs least that governs best. Increasingly, the independent, free-spirited IT industry is turning to Washington for help in myriad forms, including favorable trade laws, limits to class action lawsuits, intellectual property protection and exemptions from visa caps.

The large number of associations speaking on behalf of IT sometimes confuses policy-makers, according to some who represent the industry but asked to be anonymous so as not to offend their colleagues. On the recent issue of stock-option accounting, however, the industry presented a united front.

"Stock options really go to the heart of what Silicon Valley is all about," said Jennifer Greeson, an Intel spokesperson in Washington. "Its about individual ownership in the company and the ability to reward employees based on company performance and the idea that you can have a piece of the pie."

The longer an industry has lobbyists in Washington, the wider, more diverse its policy interests become. IBM, which came to Washington in the early 1960s when it was facing antitrust challenges, has maintained a relatively steady lobbying budget since 1998 of $5 million to $7 million. The number of issues IBM lobbies on continues growing, and, last year, its 26 in-house lobbyists addressed many Capitol Hill issues. IBM declined to comment for this story, instead referring to its filed reports.

"At the end of the day, its still a tiny percentage of the budget," ITAAs Miller said about the industrys lobbying. "IBM is an $85 billion company. I dont think their government relations office is even a rounding error. Its a lot bigger than it used to be, but its pretty small chump change."

The Software & Information Industry Associations antecedent, the Software Publishers Association, opened shop in the mid-1980s to lobby only for an amendment to the software rental laws, said SIIA President Ken Wasch. "We told [Congress], Give us this, and youll never hear from us again," Wasch said with a laugh because today the organization lobbies on dozens of issues from trade and taxation to spam and privacy. "Look, weve just matured. If youre the pharmaceutical industry or the automotive industry, you lobby on every issue. Weve become like every other mainstream industry."

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis of technologys impact on government and politics.


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