Rewards of Education: Software Industry Hits Hill with Facts, Not Contributions

Article excerpt

While corporations are coming under scrutiny for questionable campaign contributions, the software industry is finding creative ways to influence Washington's policy-makers and winning a few key concessions along the way.

An industry that started in garages may take a little while to learn the ways of Washington, but the Silicon Valley set is learning quickly that education and big economic numbers are often useful tools of persuasion.

"This is still an industry that believes in the power of ideas more than the power of campaign contributions," said Robert Holleyman, the president of the Business Software Alliance. "Don't expect them to become known as a major source of campaign donations."

Mr. Holleyman said that as long as the industry pumps up the U.S. economy with exports and high-paying jobs, it will prefer to let the facts speak for themselves and hope Washington gets the message.

Last week 10 top software-industry executives, including Microsoft's Bill Gates, barnstormed through Washington on a one-day visit, spending equal amounts of time meeting with lawmakers and educating the public about how software is changing the world.

Their goal was to let policy-makers know they are an industry to be reckoned with, an industry of the future that has built a $102.8 billion market for software, has paid $15.1 billion in taxes and employs 619,400 people.

They want Washington's help in protecting copyright software from piracy, and they want policy-makers to get out of the way when it comes to exporting encryption software.

It was a day for education and communication, not deals. They met with Vice President Al Gore and Senate leaders and released a study on the strength of their industry. Mr. Gates also stopped by the District's Martin Luther King Library to donate $1 million worth of computer equipment.

In the past two decades the companies represented by these executives have transformed the way America communicates and does business, and done so without much involvement by regulators.

The industry has generally shunned Washington and, for the most part, avoided contributing heavily to individual campaigns.

"It's a young industry, and our members are either busy making their profits or venturing into new opportunities," said David Byer, a spokesman for the Software Publishers Association. "They have funds sunk into new projects, and most don't feel the need to spend a lot of soft money."

Compared with industries such as telecommunications and tobacco, the software giants are downright frugal. …