For many years, a Washington lobbying organization called the Computer and Communications Industry Association took a stand for competition and innovation in the technology and communications marketplaces. In the courts of law and public opinion, the CCIA challenged the practices of an unrepentantly abusive monopolist, Microsoft, that violated laws and ethical standards to maintain its dominance and bought off competitors and critics with its monopoly profits.
Last month, the CCIA joined the crowd. And according to published reports, first in the Financial Times last week, the organization scored some $20 million in the settlement, with its top employee, Ed Black, getting about half of that amount. The settlement represented a rounding error for Microsoft but real money for the CCIA, which agreed to pull out of the European Union’s antitrust case against Microsoft and to stop pursuing legal challenges to the 2001 U.S. settlement with the company.
The CCIA now has negative credibility in my ledger. But in today’s Washington, such acts are apparently considered par for the course. I’m sure most lobbyists are green with envy, utterly untroubled by even the slightest ethical pang.
This deal only reinforces the need for tough and relentless government regulation to enforce the valuable rules that make capitalism work — ensuring fair marketplaces where law-breaking monopolists aren’t rewarded for their deeds. We don’t live in such a nation at the moment.
In America, for now, government considers honest capitalism a nice idea but not much more than that. The Bush administration’s giveaway in the Microsoft settlement was just one bit of evidence of the lack of rules or enforcement of the rules we do have. In such a climate, the CCIA’s move is the logical one.
Someday, America will recoil at the way things are routinely done now. We will have a government that believes in an honest marketplace, and lobbyists will need to learn new rules. And people like Ed Black will have to make their millions in a different way.