FRAMINGHAM (06/28/2000) - In a disclosure that further fuels the rivalry between Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp., Oracle has owned up to being behind the efforts of private investigators who last week were found to be snooping at several pro-Microsoft lobbying groups.
In a brief statement issued yesterday, Oracle admitted to having hired Washington-based Investigation Group International (IGI) to examine the activities of the Independent Institute and the National Taxpayers Union, which both have argued against the U.S. government's efforts to break up Microsoft on antitrust grounds.
Oracle was unrepentant in its statement, claiming that the two lobbying organizations were "misrepresenting themselves as independent advocacy groups" while attempting to influence public opinion during the antitrust trial. "Left undisclosed, these Microsoft front groups could have improperly influenced the outcome of one of the most important antitrust cases in U.S. history," Oracle said.
A third pro-Microsoft group, the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT), also claimed last week that it had been targeted -- in its case, by people who tried to buy its trash from office cleaning workers. Oracle's statement didn't mention ACT by name but said IGI had been hired to investigate "numerous front organizations."
When news about the investigations first broke last week, Oracle declined to comment on the incidents. Some of the groups have said they believe notebook computers were stolen from their offices, but Oracle said in yesterday's statement that it insisted IGI use only legal means in the investigations.
Oracle officials declined to comment further on the matter.
For its part, Microsoft has denied trying to hide its relationships with the various lobbying groups. Oracle's action "truly saddens us," said Microsoft spokesman Rick Miller. "We always knew there was a concerted effort by our competitors to bring this case into the government arena, but we didn't think they would go to these depths."
Microsoft won't file any charges against Oracle, Miller said. But he added that some of the "victimized parties" might.
In a statement of its own, the Oakland-based Independent Institute said it was disappointed by what it called Oracle's attempt to "smear us by calling into question the legitimacy" of the organization's public-policy research program.
David Theroux, the Independent Institute's president, said Microsoft's two-year membership in the organization hasn't altered the substance of its work.
"I'm a little surprised at Oracle," said Vince Bertone, management information systems director at Miteq Inc. in Hauppauge, New York. "Why would this be necessary? I think (Oracle has) a superior product. They have nothing to worry about."