Will Microsoft's Woes Become a Campaign Issue?

July 7, 2008 - 8:25 PM

(CNSNews.com) - The Microsoft trial has already sent shock waves through the financial markets, but does it has the same potential to affect the 2000 presidential campaign?

Clearly, House Republicans smell an issue in the Microsoft trial: House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts released a statement Wednesday blaming the volatility in the Nasdaq market squarely on the White House's "meddling with the private sector."

"What about the millions of Americans who have pensions and investments in the stock market?" Watts continued. "The federal government should not be jeopardizing their retirement security."

Republicans on the Hill are licking their chops at the opportunity to tie Vice President Al Gore to Department of Justice actions that have resulted in huge drops in the tech markets.

"If the Microsoft case crashes the Nasdaq, you can be sure we're going to blame this right on Al Gore," one Republican chief of staff on Capitol Hill told CNSNews.com.

One venue for those hearings: the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has already said he'd like Congress to look at the ruling's impact on consumers, and on what he calls "this incredible engine that's driving America's economy."

Republicans could find that an attack on the Microsoft judgment would be well-received by consumers. Recent polls show that 71 percent of consumers think Microsoft has been good to consumers and the country, and 58 percent don't want the company broken up. More importantly, at least 6 million people own stock in Microsoft directly, while the number who own it indirectly through mutual funds or pension plans may be more than ten times that number.

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has so far avoided comment on the issue, saying only that he'd "fully enforce anti-trust laws to foster competition and innovation, to protect consumers, and to guard against anti-competitive conduct" as president.

But one key Bush backer in Washington told CNSNews.com that a President Bush would interpret anti-trust laws very differently than a President Gore.

"If George W. Bush were to win in 2000, his goal would be to break up real monopolies such as the U.S. Post Office, rather than innovative software companies that provide benefits to consumers and investors," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a sometime Bush advisor.

Robert Levy, a fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, told CNSNews.com that between Microsoft, tobacco trials, and threatened lawsuits against gun manufacturers, Americans may be more receptive to an attack on activist trial lawyers and a message of tort reform.

"The money that trial lawyers is being paid is finding its way back into the political process to state legislatures and judges, which buys more bad legal precedents, which brings even more money back to the same lawyers," said Levy.

"When voters hear that the Texas trial lawyers who filed the tobacco cases are getting ten times as much money as is being invested in anti-smoking programs, and that their pay comes to something like $92,000 per hour of work, they're going to get upset" and demand comprehensive legal reform, he added.