Microsoft tweets concern for Ida victims while funding climate deniers in Congress

The world's second-largest company is still bankrolling climate deniers' re-election campaigns, and defending the practice.

On August 31, Microsoft Vice President and head of philanthropy Kate Behncken tweeted that Microsoft’s thoughts were with victims of Hurricane Ida. Microsoft gave political donations to several climate deniers in Congress this summer. Source: Twitter.

The 2022 midterm elections are fast-approaching, and Republicans are trying to win back control of Congress. They have a pretty good chance of flipping the House, and the Senate is within their reach as well. If this happens, and Democrats lose control of either chamber, President Joe Biden’s climate agenda will likely grind to a halt.

Two more years of inaction on climate policy could very well spell the end of a habitable world for millions of humans. Last month, the world’s most authoritative climate science body released a report outlining devastating and unprecedented consequences if governments don’t immediately begin winding down their fossil fuel economies. “There is still time to act, but it must happen immediately,” the IPCC said.

One of the world’s most politically powerful people is aware of this. Brad Smith, the president of the second-largest company in the world—Microsoft—shared the IPCC’s report on Twitter last month. He said the report showed “we must all raise our ambition” on climate, and that Microsoft was “committed to doing its part.”

Smith also clearly recognizes the deadly and costly nature of the crisis. A few days later, after Hurricane Ida slammed into Louisiana, the company donated $1 million to the Red Cross, and company Vice President and head of philanthropy Kate Behncken tweeted Microsoft’s “thoughts” for the victims.

But even with all this knowledge, Microsoft is not using its political power to advocate for bold action on climate.

In fact, the majority of Microsoft’s 2022 midterm contributions this summer went to Republican individuals and PACs, many of whom are outspoken climate deniers and climate policy obstructionists, according to an analysis of Microsoft’s latest round of political giving.

Microsoft’s summer giving: 62 percent went to Republicans

HEATED’s analysis of Microsoft’s monthly PAC filings for July and August shows the company has made a total of $163,000 in contributions to federal Senate and House races so far this summer. Of that total, 62 percent, or $101,500, went to Republican individuals and PACs, while 38 percent, or $61,500, went to Democratic individuals and PACs.

For the competitive and high stakes race for the House, Microsoft made a total of $86,500 in contributions in June. About 72 percent, or $62,000, went to Republican candidates and PACs affiliated with House Republicans, while about 28 percent, or $24,500, went to Democratic candidates and Democrat-affiliated PACs.

Microsoft’s contributions to Senate races were a bit more balanced. The company gave a total of $39,500 to Republican Senate candidates and PACs, and $37,000 to Democratic Senate candidates and PACs in June, according to HEATED’s analysis.

But the Republican Senate candidates Microsoft is funding include some of the most outspoken climate deniers and powerful climate policy obstructionists in Congress, including Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), John Barrasso (R-WY), and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), each of whom received a $5,000 donation from Microsoft for their respective PAC in June.

Microsoft’s response: “It’s unlikely we’ll agree on every issue.”

Even if Microsoft put all its political power toward electing Democrats, meaningful climate legislation would not be guaranteed. Many Democrats still fail to grasp the severity of the climate crisis, and are still firmly planted in the fossil fuel industry’s pockets. But the chance of passing comprehensive legislation to achieve a net zero economy by 2050 gets much more slim if Congress is controlled by the Republican Party, which is stacked with overt climate change deniers.

Microsoft gave to several of those deniers as record heat, wildfire and flood swept the nation this summer. The company’s recent donations include $5,000 to the leadership PAC of Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), who has said “There isn’t any real science to say we are altering the climate path of the earth,” and $2,500 to Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR), a senior member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee who has said “We have yet to find an exact answer” to the cause of climate change.

There are many more examples, which you can explore in this spreadsheet. But this practice is nothing new for Microsoft. We’ve reported on it several times at the newsletter, sometimes in partnership with Judd Legum’s newsletter Popular Information.

Microsoft has defended these donations in the past. In a statement to HEATED and Popular Information in December 2020, a company spokesperson said its donations were an “essential part of achieving progress.”

We recognize that to make progress on the issues that matter to our customers and to our business, we must engage with candidates and officeholders who hold a range of views. Given the breadth of our policy agenda, it’s unlikely we’ll agree on every issue, but we’ve learned that engagement—even when individuals hold different positions—is an essential part of achieving progress.

HEATED reached out to Microsoft again to ask if the company had achieved any progress with its political donations. We also asked if the company’s position on political donations to climate deniers had changed, given the the latest IPCC report; the climate-fueled disasters striking America; and the stakes of the 2022 midterm elections.

HEATED also asked Microsoft if President Brad Smith believes Microsoft has any responsibility to push for political change, given its power and influence as one of the U.S.'s most valuable companies. If so, we asked, is Microsoft really “doing its part” if the majority of its political donations go toward keeping climate obstructionists in power?

We got the same response as last time, word for word, attributable to a Microsoft spokesperson.

Having it both ways

The reason we target Microsoft at this letter is two-fold. The first is that it’s one of the most powerful corporations in the world, and has great power to change the course of politics if it chooses to.

The second is that Microsoft markets itself as one of the most climate responsible companies in the world. This makes its hypocrisy all the more stark. The company also claims it knows the importance of politics in achieving climate action. In January, the company’s chief sustainability officer Lucas Joppa wrote, “Policy action is the ultimate enabling condition to move the world beyond the voluntary action of a few corporations, and into a world where this work is required of all organizations.”

In many ways, Microsoft is a true corporate leader on climate change. Last year, the company announced it would become carbon negative by 2030 and remove all its historic emissions from the atmosphere by 2050. It also announced the creation of a $1 billion fund to accelerate carbon capture and removal technologies, and later released its first sustainability report on the company’s progress.

In the most important way, however, Microsoft is like every other big corporation on climate change. It will use its vast resources to change its own emissions trajectory, but it will take little responsibility for changing the trajectory of U.S. politics. That’s unfortunate, because we live in a country where corporations have outsized control over policy. And whatever policy we do or don’t pass soon will change the world forever.

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Catch of the Day

Fish can’t even look at Microsoft right now. He simply just cannot!