UCITA's Effect on Business

SAN MATEO (05/15/2000) - This column is about running IS. The politics it usually covers are corporate politics: The brown-nosing, back-stabbing, hallway persuading, deception, misdirection, and lunch-buying that is basic to business.

Government politics I usually leave alone. I'm not a ribbon-wearing actor, so I figure I have no special expertise that warrants your attention. I'm about to make an exception, because a political issue is about to have a big impact on the world of IT.

The issue itself is the ridiculous notion that writing big "soft money" checks to a political party is an expression of free speech. Conservative pundits in particular have adopted this cause, but in all their tortured logic, they've proved only that they've become toadies to those among the ultrawealthy and influential who will do anything to increase their wealth and influence, regardless of the social consequences.

Let's be clear about the relationship between wealth and free speech: If you want to use your wealth in the pursuit of free speech, buy as many full-page newspaper (or television, or radio) ads as you want. Heck, buy as many newspaper companies as you want. That's free speech. Writing politicians checks to influence votes isn't free speech. It's bribery, no matter how hard George Will tries to make it into something noble.

As an IS manager, soft money is about to affect you in a personal way. As evidence, I offer a recent article in The Wall Street Journal describing meetings between Bill Gates and senior Republican lawmakers after which the lawmakers called for a probe into the Justice Department's prosecution of Microsoft Corp.

Did Bill Gates bribe the Republicans? Not hardly. Microsoft pursued the high road, honorably exercising its right of free speech by contributing lots of "unrestricted soft money." Your stance on the U.S. Department of Justice vs.

Microsoft notwithstanding, if you understand basic civics, you should be outraged.

How does this affect you? One word: UCITA (Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act). InfoWorld columnist Ed Foster has fought a lonely battle against UCITA in these pages. All he's had on his side are facts and logic. But when your state legislature debates UCITA, it may hear lots of free speech "rebuttals" in the form of soft money contributions.

So I'm making an exception to my policy of avoiding politics, because in this case, InfoWorld readers can have a significant impact. Here's how:

CIOs have access to CEOs. CEOs, at least those of large corporations, have access to, and considerable influence over, politicians. Don't want UCITA to become law? Make sure your CEO and chief legal counsel understand how it could affect your business if it passes.

You must handle this gingerly; you will be taking a risk. Be very businesslike; do not be an alarmist.

Recommend that your chief legal counsel review UCITA as the first step; don't recommend any action based on your understanding alone. But introduce the issue. Educating your company's leaders on issues such as this is your responsibility.

In a nation that views influence-buying as free speech instead of bribery, UCITA won't be stopped with mere facts and logic. It will be stopped the way it's being promoted: by old-fashioned political arm-twisting.

I suggest you use your political skills -- the corporate kind -- to make that happen.

Think it's worth the risk? Send an e-mail message to Bob at bob_lewis@compuserve.com. Bob Lewis is a Minneapolis-based consultant at Perot Systems.

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