Some have criticized Microsoft for “supporting” the so-called “Heartland Institute.” The basis of this is that Microsoft provides free software because the so-called “Heartland Institute” is, at present, legally classified as a nonprofit organization. There have even been suggestions to pressure Microsoft no longer to allow the so-called “Heartland Institute” free software access, because of their global warming denial.

I disagree. Fervently.

Microsoft provides free software to non-profit organizations. I think that’s a wonderful service. They don’t have a review committee, or a lot of rules and regulations, and frankly they aren’t interested in making a bureaucracy of doing so. I’m glad. I want all non-profit organizations to benefit from this. If there are reprehensible non-profit organizations — and I consider the so-called “Heartland Institute” about as reprehensible as it gets — as long as they legally qualify as non-profit, they get the benefit too. That’s as it should be. Because the minute they start making exceptions, the whole thing slides down a slippery slope.

If we pressure Microsoft to “pick and choose” which non-profits get the benefit and which don’t, either they’ll end up making rules and regulations which will eventually disqualify worthy recipients (a bad thing), or they’ll just abandon the program all together (a worse thing). And if we, the advocates of global warming action, actively criticize Microsoft for doing nothing more than giving away free software to all nonprofits, no questions asked, we end up looking like jerks. Rightfully so, in my opinion.

Let’s be perfectly clear: the idea that Microsoft is “supporting” the so-called “Heartland Institute” is ridiculous. All they do is give free software to non-profit organizations. The instant we start criticizing that because we consider one of the recipients unworthy (and I do), we’ll have levelled an unfair accusation at a completely innocent company which was doing nothing more than giving a helping hand to thousands of worthwhile groups. And if we jeopardize that, just because we can’t accept some slimeballs lapping up part of the gravy train, we show ourselves to be petty and mean.

There’s another aspect of this as well. Microsoft has publicly endorsed action to mitigate global warming. I don’t think they’ve done very much about it, and I wouldn’t call them strong allies in this fight, but they are certainly not our enemy. Who was it who said, “Whoever is not against us, is for us”? They may not be an active ally, but at least they’re in our corner. And they have a helluva lot of money and influence. It’s possible that as time passes, they will become more active about this issue, maybe even a strong advocate and a real friend to our cause. Let’s not make them an enemy by haranguing and criticizing them when they’ve done absolutely nothing wrong.

I repeat: I think the free-software-for-nonprofits, no-questions-asked policy is a good deed. It’s a great idea. Insisting that they screen recipients will only threaten its continuation. That’s a bad idea.

So to all those who wish to criticize Microsoft because some slimeballs took advantage of their generosity, or insist they exclude some nonprofits from the program, I say: don’t. To Microsoft, I say: keep on giving free software to any and all non-profit organizations. Including the so-called “Heartland Institute” — in spite of my opinion that they definitely fit into the “sleazebag” category.

70 responses to “Microsoft

  1. I think you meant to refer to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – not Microsoft. A common error to conflate the two. But certainly the Foundation exists because of Microsoft.

    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does indeed refuse to face human-caused global warming. The Foundation Trust has over 6 billion dollars invested in coal and carbon fuel industries. This alone is enough to link them deeply to the Heartland Institute – also heavily supported by carbon fuel interests.

    Perhaps the payoff for carbon capital investment is so great, and perhaps they doubt their own power to influence markets. But the Foundation again and again seems to squander an opportunity to lead and influence major changes to public policy.

    I think you may be too quick to defend them.

    [Response: I condemn any deliberate effort to stop or slow action about the impending climate crisis. But I still believe that it is unfair to criticize Microsoft simply because reprehensible organizations benefit from their free-software program by virtue of legal status as non-profit organizations. And, I still urge them to place no restrictions on that program other than “legally non-profit” status.]

  2. Dan Moutal

    I think Greg Laden has a good solution for Microsoft:

    If you are going to give away a big pile of stuff with only loose criteria for who gets it, make a rule: If you want the free item, take it, but do not put our name on your web site or anywhere else without our expressed permission.

  3. John Mashey

    I mostly agree with Tamino, in particular because this sort of thing is normally handled low in an organization:
    send us your 501(c)(3), we give you software … of course, it does help keep Linux and Apple out, as well. [Note: I’m a long-time computer industry guy: I know MS people, I’ve been in both cooperative and competitive situations, and I still own the CA UNIX license plate…]

    BUT in any case, the issue is NOT that MS doesn’t want to take on the mess of evaluating charities, the issue is the 501(c)(3) status, which I allege is seriously violated ed by Heartland (and SEPP, and CSCDGC), and ALEC (via Common Cause), and actually, a bunch of organizations often funded by L&H Bradley, Kochs, Scaife, ExxonMobil, etc and the tobacco companies.

    See PDF @ Fake science…, p.12:
    48 501(c)(3)s are listed, including some of the funders.
    AS a group, they got $330M in 2009.
    A majority have gotten tobacco funding at some time or other, and I’d guess most still do.
    See. pp.39-41 for data from the tobacco archives.
    A lot of these do climate anti-science also.

    Can anyone imagine anything tobacco companies would pay them for that would be in the public interest? Actually, one need not imagine: see p.40: it’s advocacy, PR and lobbying, and if you read pp.8-10, you can learn about the IRS rules. If they were to lose 501(c)(3) status, the first thing that happens is that entities like the Koch and Scaife foundations *cannot* give them money. Other things happen as well.

    Most 501(c)(3)s are legitimate (I;’m a Trustee of one, a Museum), but I allege that some are really tax-exempt PR/lobbyists … and THAT’s the problem, not MS. [Of course, I’d be delighted if MS figured out a way to cut HI off, but I wouldn’t count on it. It’s the IRS’ job, but they need to get complaints to act.]

    [Response: I agree that their 501(c) status should be challenged.]

  4. Would have been helpful if you’d provided links to people saying this. Was the kind of thing?

    In which case, you were correct to refer to Micro$oft (even if you didn’t spell it right :-). I don’t know why rpauli says “I think you meant to refer to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – not Microsoft”.

    Oh, and on the essential point, I agree with you.

  5. I’m glad you said this, Tamino, because I agree. The problem is in Heartland’s status, not in Microsoft’s policy. Here in the UK, the same applies to Lawson’s ‘Global Warming Policy Foundation’ (GWPF), a registered charity. I’m sure they, too, receive free software from Microsoft, and again the problem is that (in spite of my, and many other people’s efforts) they’re allowed to call themselves a charity — with all the tax advantages of that status — not that Microsoft give them free software.

    Let’s face it, these faux non-profits and charities are very handy for the big corporations; they can fund them to create and disseminate corporate PR and to lobby, with apparent independence — and they can be cut off an disowned if they go too far. So they allow the corporations to stray into ‘dirty tricks’ territory without the dirty linen that goes along with it.

  6. T: Who was it who said, “Whoever is not against us, is for us”?

    BPL: Jesus.

  7. glorkspangle

    rpauli: Tamino isn’t writing about the Gates Foundation. You are changing the subject.
    Microsoft has a general policy of support for charitable organisations, which consists of donating software to them. The program is called TechSoup, and although it supposedly has some additional requirement – for local community involvement – given that they support thousands of organisations, I imagine this requirement is easy to fake or dodge. Microsoft has stated that the reason it appears on Heartland’s lists of supporters is donations of this kind.
    It seems unlikely to me that Heartland’s non-profit status is legitimate. It also seems unlikely to me that they meet TechSoup’s local community requirement. Further: I’m not any sort of Microsoft fan (and I doubt that any donation of Microsoft software could conceivably help *my* non-profit organisation). But I strongly agree with Tamino that harassing Microsoft on this point is likely only to result in the introduction of stringent qualification procedures which will harm many genuine charities.
    The way forward is surely to challenge Heartland’s non-profit status.

  8. I’m no fan of Microsoft, I’ve used Linux since 1994 (my first install was v1.0.9 from a stack of floppies, although I also ran a 0.99 version).
    But I absolutely agree that their non-profit program is a good thing, and the fact that Heartland have been able to benefit through their (dubious) non-profit status in no way reflects on Microsoft.

  9. It costs MS nothing to duplicate their software and they pay less taxes by claiming to be donating something of value. They lose some sales from those who can afford it, but they also gain lock-in from non-profits who can’t afford it by preventing them from exploring other sources of free software.

    I agree that it’s better to not use the program to try to exert power and influence over non-profits, but don’t pretend that MS does anything out of “goodness and kindness” instead of domination and greed.

    [Response: I don’t. But despite the fact that their motivation is probably nothing more than a tax write-off, the program itself is still a good deed.]

  10. Thanks, Tamino. I have made this point over and over again in various blogs. It’s hard to get traction against a strong predisposition to hate everything MS does.

  11. @rpauli: No, he’s not confusing anything. MS, not the Gates Foundation, has provided free or reduced cost software to Heartland (along with thousands of other nonprofits). This dollar value of these donations showed up in the documents obtained by Peter Gleick, resulting in the assumption that MS is directly funding Heartland. Various blogs are publishing lists of Heartland “donors,” along with the suggestion that their products be boycotted, etc.

    To me, the question isn’t “Why is MS providing software to nonprofits?” The real question is “How does Heartland qualify as a tax-exempt nonprofit?” Heartland shills for whatever position its “donors” will pay for. That describes a PR firm, not an educational foundation, and I’m deeply disturbed by the fact that my tax dollars help support such an organization.

  12. The obvious solution here is to render Heartland ineligible, by having their 501c3 status revoked.

  13. I agree with Tamino. It is the responsibility of the Government to decide who is a tax exempt organization. MicroSoft, or the Foundation is simply what should be a clean straight-forward citerion to decide who gets free software.

    If a few sleeze bag organizations slip through it is not MS’s fault. It would appear that it is the US IRA who should be more diligent

    [Response: I think you mean “IRS”, not “IRA”.]

  14. Possibly the pressure should be rather to take a clearer view of climate change as a problem:

    Then again, is the Gates Foundation–wobbly though it may be on the questions of climate change and what should be done about it–the top priority?

  15. I think you meant to refer to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – not Microsoft.

    No, he didn’t. He’s talking about this program:

    Microsoft. Not the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

  16. And I agree 100% with Tamino’s comment. To qualify you need to be able to show your 501(3)c and that’s it.

  17. Gavin's Pussycat

    While I agree with the gist of what you’re saying, I do wish to point out that there exists also truly free software solutions, which may be a good fit for some. Much fine software of this kind exists on the Internet or can be found for popular free-software platforms like Android for tablet PCs. Using free software would also fit in well with the culture of unselfishness found in so many genuine charities.

    Note also that, even if Windows and Office software are offered for free, they are quite demanding of the hardware they will run on, which is not free, neither in the acquisition nor in the use. And while these charities may work freely with proprietary formats like .doc and .xls, most of their correspondents outside the organization may not. Colour me cynical, but this is one way in which Microsoft maintains their 90%-plus penetration making these de-facto standards.

  18. Good on you for speaking out about this. In my mind there is a huge difference between a person or organisation making a specific donation and the Microsoft program that is non-specific. It’s a great thing that corporations give back to the community. I’m not cynical about it one bit. Sure there is some benefit to the company, but they give more than they take (and often don’t make a song and dance about it either).

    Time and effort is much better spent targeting the companies that actively and specifically support lobby groups like Heartland and the GWPF, IPA (in Australia) and others like them – and urging them to stop..

  19. Gavin’s Pussycat:

    Colour me cynical, but this is one way in which Microsoft maintains their 90%-plus penetration making these de-facto standards.

    Yes, of course, and they also get healthy tax deductions from the giveaways.

    Still no reason to complain that their free software program for non-profits is value-free and doesn’t subject non-profits to some sort of litmus test of political correctness (or incorrectness, if a litmus test were provided, which do you think would be most likely to be frozen out? Cato or Planned Parenthood?).

    They do something similar for start-ups through their BizSpark program – free software for the first three years of your start-up life. And which point they hope you’re locked in and will become a loyal customer. Regardless, for those of us whose software has to support Windows as well as Linux, and are in the first three years of our corporate life, it’s a welcome benefit.

    Of course I entirely agree with your point about open source and free software. The reality, though, is that many non-profits don’t have the savvy or courage to look beyond the MotherShip.

  20. @Dan Moutal:

    AFAIK, Heartland didn’t put MS’s name on its web site. The name appeared in the documents obtained by Peter Gleick. Gred Laden’s solution wouldn’t have worked.

  21. John Mashey

    re: various
    1) I hope someone in UK is going after the GWPF status; after all, the judge who handled the earlier case as much as wrote “go get ’em.”

    2) If one wants to actually do something about charity status, one can:
    – Read the relevant IRS publications
    – Find out actions that might lead to loss of status
    – Study the publications and actions of a charity, and its 990s
    – Read IRS Whistleblower procedures, and that is *not* limited to employees of the groups.
    – Document it in excruciating detail, tagging actions that might violate 501(c)(3).
    – Send the package off to the IRS.
    – About 2 months later, if they accept it as a credible case, they will send you a case number, ask for your phone number.

    OR you can read the PDF @ Fake science, fakexperts, funny finances, free of tax” for examples. Specifically:
    pp.8-11 links to IRS rules, quotes some relevant paragraphs, and codes them (with IRS-??)

    p.12 list charities, including many with tobacco funding.

    pp.14-19 is a short narrative about the activities of 3 such charities, SEPP, Heartland and CSCDGC

    p.20 is a specific summary of allegations, with codes, and with links to the massive appendices that provide backup data, chasing of money flows, examples of things that break the rules.

    A few people got the hint that this document had something to do with charity status :-), and asked. Hence, Heartland Institute faces fresh scrutiny over tax status – Whistleblower made complaint to IRS over climate science attack machine’s tax-exempt status, Guardian learns.

    Anyway, from the list on p.12, that’s at least 4, including ALEC via Common Cause.

    • EFS_Junior

      To understand what the IRS can or cannot do with respect to non-profit status, I would argue, that, we first need to look at what the IRS has done in the pasr, RE: An historical list of non-profits whom the IRS has revoked their non-profit status.

      Without such a list we are all flying blind or in the dark, as it were. Merely pointing out clauses in the IRS regulations does nothing, unless the IRS has acted substantively on said organizations in the past (racist organizations immediately come to mind as there are OTHER laws or acts or legislation or judicial rulings on the books).

      So unless the IRS has ever revoked non-profit status for the likes of an HI like entity, asking the IRS to do something against HI is mererly a pipe dream.

      Some people want to reject the non-profit status of all religous organizations, and vica-a-versa (athiest organizations)..

      Liberals want to reject the non-profit status of all conservative organizations, and vice-a-versa (say the NRA vs Greenpeace).

      Good luck with doing either of the above two things.

      I’m quite sure that the IRS get’s flooded with such complaints each and every day, so complain all you want, but without OTHER laws or judicial rulings on the books, than take it up to the SCOTUS in Citizens United VS IRS/HI.. Good luck on that front, by the way.

      We are all stuck with the status quo of non-profits, in this case the slippery slope argument IS a valid informal logical reality.

      I disagree with everything Tamino has stated above.


      Simply becausse the only real way to really affect change is for the public to act, via boycott, via pressuring those organizations you happen to disagree with, via pressuring those organizations whom support other organizations you happen to disagree with, or via the voting booth.

      To concede, to say “do nothing” is to say I don’t care.

      Passive or active? Your choice. I choose to be an activist (I just happen to think that without previous precidents within the IRS for the likes of HI or Greenpeace or your local church or athiest non-profits, citing various clauses in the IRS regulations is truely a fruitless endevour (as in you need OTHER rulings/laws OUTSIDE of the IRS).

  22. Greg Laden’s solution doesn’t work of having Microsoft donate software but get no public recognition credit for it. Companies want some public recognition, and they can’t afford to spend the time to vet thousands of charities. And his solution would just lead to accusations of secret support.

    The far better solution is John Mashey’s solution, for IRS to kick out of 501 c/3 status groups like Heartland that don’t deserve it.

  23. Rob Honeycutt

    I say let them have Windows software. Windows is a special kind of hell that is quite fitting for the likes of the Heartland Inst. ;-)

  24. Alex the Seal

    Having to use their software is punishment enough. :)

  25. I think every effort should be made to give nutjobs such as Heartland full voice to their madness, this is the only way to expose it and be done with it. If people are dumb enoudgh to buy their crap then no amount of ‘do-gooding’ is going to change that persons mind. Do-gooding sets up a ‘holier than thou’ structure which is the surest way to piss people off and ensure recalcitrance.

    • The problem is that much of their full voice is in designing and distributing misleading educational materials for K-12 – stuff that is scientifically incorrect. To just let the wack-jobs spin out of control is to harm kids.
      Heartland employs ”This effort, at a cost of $100,000 a year, will be developed by Dr. David E. Wojick, a coal-industry consultant.”

      “Dr. Wojick proposes to begin work on “modules” for grades 10-12 on climate change (“whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy“), climate models (“models are used to explore various hypotheses about how climate works. Their reliability is controversial”), and air pollution (“whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial. It is the global food supply and natural emissions are 20 times higher than human emissions”).
      Wojick would produce modules for Grades 7-9 on environmental impact (“environmental impact is often difficult to determine. For example there is a major controversy over whether or not humans are changing the weather“), for Grade 6 on water resources and weather systems, and so on.
      Wojick will receive $5,000 per module, with twenty modules produced a year. Wojick, who manages the Climate Change Debate listserv, is not a climate scientist. His doctorate is in epistemology.”

      General Motors has withdrawn their support for the Heartland Institute.

  26. David B. Benson

    In the May 2012 issue of Notices of the American Mathematical Society, vol. 59 #5, there is a review of “The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bates’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant From Two Centuries of Controversy”. Even I learned some things from the review and the book appears to be quite a good piece of history. Recommended.

    And yes, this is related to Microsoft if not the exact topic of this thread.

  27. John Mashey

    Heartland has the right to free speech.
    In addition, people have the right to have their names associated with Heartland as Heartland Experts, or see pp51-.52 of Fake science for their “Legislator’s Guide to Global Warming Experts.”

    If anyone contacts any of these to ask if
    a) They knew they were on this list (I know of 2 already who say otherwise)
    b) They wish to remain there

    be polite. They have every right to associate their names with Heartland as long as they want. If they use the Casablanca Defense, one might politely ask how long they were assocaited with Heartland.

  28. Eli has a policy of not making the rubble bounce, but, moderation in all things. There is really another issue that has not been much touched on. MS has a decent policy (you can argue about whether there should be limits on such deductions in kind or not, and you will quickly get into the two minds mode), but consider why ATI listed this donation in kind as a cash donation, likely to impress others who were considering donating as in Gee, ATI is supported by Microsoft.

    In that regard, a whole lot of people who did not realize that MS gave software to any 501c3 that asked could have been mislead, and this controversy serves, at least for some, a useful purpose (has anyone actually asked the Center for American Progress if they get software donated by MS, and how they declare it)

    So, in short John Mashey is right, the US and UK need to tighten up on qualifying 501 c3s.

    • John Mashey

      As I think Eli knows, the IRS Revokes 501(c)(3) status regularly, but they generally don’t say why. That list does *not* show those, like SPPI, dropped automatically for failure to file Form 990s. But otherwise, a quick look says they revoke about ~100/year, of which a few end up in court.

      Fake science,… cited one case (fn 30), but that was where the IRS denied 501(c)(3) status in the first place, and it got into the courts, a relatively rare case. That was clear enough I didn’t bother trying to track down any of the other litigations.

      In general, once an entity is granted 501(c)(3), it tends to stay that way unless complaints are filed, and get high enough priority on the IRS’s list, and when they get revoked, one doesn’t know why unless it gets into court. Hopefully, if any of {SEPP, Heartland, CSCDGC, ALEC} get revoked, they will litigate :-)

      • Naw, they will simply reorganize into four new organizations and refile.

      • EFS_Junior



        Revoking 501(c)(3) status only means that they will refile using different language, or move over into 501(c)(4), or whatever.

        Even if HI were to completely lose their tax exempt status (and I’m 100% sure that HI would take this all the way up to SCOTUS (deep pockets, future court related donations (big bucks, mind you, say 7 figures even) from fellow ideologues, etceteras), they are simply not going to go away. Not going to happen. Ever.

        Not having tax exempt status is not the end all, be all, to any organization’s survival.

        In fact, should such a thing happen (losing their tax exempt status completely and forevermore), it is quite easy to see a scenario where a for profit HI gathers even more money (even after federal/state/local taxes), from fellow disgruntled ideological anthropogenic climate change deniers (I really dislike the term “climate deniers” as no one, that I know of, has ever denied that the climate has changed in the past, only that anthropogenic forcings are not the current cause of climate change).

        In a for profit HI scenario, they could pretty much say and do whatever they would want to do (short of libelous or slanderous language).

        So getting the IRS to revoke HI’s 501(c)(3) status, while it may be a short term victory of some sort, may very likely be a long term loss (as HI could then engage in true lobbying efforts, run campaign ad’s, hide their funding sources completely, etceteras).

        We undoubtidly would/will know more about HI if they were to stay a 501(c)(3) then if they were to be a for profit entity. But then again I don’t know all of the IRS filing requirements that apply to for profit entities (sans the Citizens United SCOTUS decision, which, at first glance, does not bode well for public disclosures from super PAC’s AFAIK).

        But in any scenario, HI would undoubtedly survive, IMHO.

      • John Mashey

        While not new news, in that listI was amused to see a 2009 revocation for “Advancement of Sound Science Center” in Potomac, MD, i.e., Steve Milloy.

      • EFS_Junior

        I just wanted to add that Citizens United is a non-profit entity (according to Wikipedia a 501(c)(4), so no tax deductions for persons (including corporations) making donations to said 501(c)(4) entities, but those entities themselves are still non-profits).

        Just like the Discovery Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit entity.

  29. I think that Microsoft’s record on environmental issues is much better than Apple’s. A few years ago, the Carbon Disclosure Project highlighted the contrast between the two companies.

  30. ianvsbifrons


    We have to disagree with you on this one, fervently. Microsoft not only has the means & wherewithal but, like any responsible corporate citizen, the responsibility to not donate any services or money or support to so-called “non-profit” PR firms who lie to & deceive the American public to further enrich the tobacco & fossil-fuel industries at the expense of the public health & welfare.

    Microsoft should immediately cease & desist providing any free products or services or support to Joe Bast & the Heartland Institute & offer a loud & clear apology to the American people, starting with our children & grandchildren.

    Until then, we will no longer purchase Microsoft products & services & will take our business to their competitors who do not donate or support Joe Bast & the Heartland Institute.

    That also goes for Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo, Comcast, Time-Warner, & the rest of the corporate citizens who continue to provide free products or services or support to Joe Bast & the Heartland Institute.

    Cut the funds & the snake dies.

    SoCal Businessman & Grandfather

    • ianvsbifrons

      Make that,

      Cut off the funds & the snake dies.

    • TrueSceptic

      I agree strongly with Tamino on this. It is the non-profit status of Heartland that is the issue. Remove that and all companies that provide services on the basis of it being a non-profit will automatically cease that provision.

      What you suggest is that companies providing free services to non-profits carry out their own evaluation of every non-profit, or bow to pressure from their clients and consumers. This is not just impractical; it would also represent a slippery slope where all genuine non-profits would suffer.

      • ianvsbifrons

        re: “What you suggest is that companies providing free services to non-profits carry out their own evaluation of every non-profit, or bow to pressure from their clients and consumers. This is not just impractical; it would also represent a slippery slope where all genuine non-profits would suffer.”

        Are you suggesting that Microsoft doesn’t have the means or wherewithal to screen whom they choose to donate free products or services to? Don’t you screen whom you choose to donate to?

        And, in a free society, we citizens do have the ability — some might say, the civic duty — to apply pressure to major corporations who insist on providing support to “non-profits” & bad actors who willfully lie & deceive & jeopardize our health & welfare. We also have the choice to take our business elsewhere.

        The slippery slope is to give a pass to companies like Microsoft who continue to fund so-called “non-profit” operations & bad actors who continue to willfully lie & deceive the American public at the expense of our health & welfare, and that of our children & grandchildren. We say not in America, not on our watch.

  31. @anvsbifrons

    “Are you suggesting that Microsoft doesn’t have the means or wherewithal to screen whom they choose to donate free products or services to? Don’t you screen whom you choose to donate to?”

    MS says that it fulfilled over 40,000 of these requests last year alone. That’s over 150 per working DAY. Each working day you have to research 150 entities, figure out what each one of them is really up to (not always easy), and make an individual decision for each one. What sort of resources would that require? What corporation would devote that level of resources to give something away for nothing?

    Let’s be realistic here.

    TrueSceptic is right, and I said the same thing earlier: The real issue is Heartland’s tax exempt status, not that MS provides software to nonprofits. Let’s not make the wrong people the bad guys in this, OK?

    • ianvsbifrons

      Let’s be realistic here, chris.

      Contrary to what tamino suggests, Microsoft does get something of monetary value for its donations to Heartland; it gets a tax deduction. And that means that taxpayers like us are effectively subsidizing Joe Bast & Heartland’s lies & deception.

      40,000 per year? There are entrepreneurs out there that could provide the service of screening non-profits to defined standards & policies, for a fee of course.

      But let’s assume that Microsoft was totally unaware that the Heartland Institute was a bad actor — well-intentioned people & blind-sided corporations do sometimes make horrible mistakes. Surely, with these recent Unabomber & Manson ads & all the news coverage, Microsoft now knows what Heartland is about & should now realistically respond with due contrition & termination of any free products & services.

      We agree that Heartland’s tax exempt status is definitely worthy of IRS scrutiny, if not congressional investigation, although, as Eli Rabbet astutely surmises, Joe Bast & Co. could merely hang a new non-profit shingle.

      However, the real issue here remains that Microsoft continues to provide free products & services to the Heartland Institute, an organization of people who continue to willfully lie to & deceive the American public about climate science & climate scientists & man-made climate change to enrich the fossil fuel industries at the expense of public health & welfare & taxpayer subsidies.

      Don’t confuse any Microsoft loyalties or commitments for what’s good or bad for America.

      • Brian Dodge

        If Microsoft picks & chooses which nonprofits to support, they have a legal fiduciary responsibility to make selections on the basis of which donations are most profitable for Microsoft. Which opens the door for a disgruntled shareholder (or group eyeing a takeover) to raise the issues of “why did you donate to THIS nonprofit,” or “you didn’t donate to Heartland, which generated all this bad publicity and ill will which hurt our bottom line.” And as soon as they start justifying their decisions about who gets their software gratis, the IRS starts to question whether the donations are indeed “charitable” and therefore deductible.

        What Microsoft can do, and were I a stockholder I would encourage them to do, is have the VP for Finance send an enquiry to the IRS that since there are legitimate questions that have been raised about the tax exempt status of Heartland, Microsoft would like the IRS to investigate this, and clarify in writing whether future or yet to be claimed deductions for gifts to Heartland will be allowed.

        Microsoft generates ~$70e9 in revenue & $23e9 in profit. 40k software donations at $1k a whack is only $40e6; enough to keep a couple dozen people employed, and worth far more in goodwill to make blanket donations to 501c3 organizations. If WWF and Heartland get into a pissing fight over MS software, even by proxy, MS will choose to keep its feet dry, and everybody else will lose.

      • ianvsbifrons

        With the Heartland madmen billboard “experiment” on the heels of recent Heartland document disclosures, the doors to criticism & bad publicity for any donors are already wide open.

        And whether any such fiduciary responsibility to stockholders trumps Microsoft’s corporate responsibility to & backlash from the American public remains to be seen.

        Like we said, giving a pass to Microsoft & other contributors to identified bad actors like Heartland is a slippery slope.

        Exposing bad actors like Heartland & pressuring their financial supporters to discontinue their relationship makes for a more transparent, responsible corporate citizenry. And America wins.

        [Response: You’ve all had your say, at some length. Perhaps further back-and-forth is pointless.]

      • “Don’t confuse any Microsoft loyalties or commitments for what’s good or bad for America.”

        Let me be very clear on this: I have no loyalties or commitments to Microsoft, assuming that’s what you meant. I would feel the same way if this were Wal-Mart or Kathy’s Kupkakes instead of Microsoft.

  32. So when a bunch of non-profit turns out to be lobbying outfits that should be paying taxes (Eli has a post), like Greenpeace has a seperate entity for lobbying which is non-tax-deductible and therefore doesn’t get the free Win7, the lack of scrutiny and good will will all be a bit moot because MS will be liable to pay back the deductions to the IRS and whoever else anyway, which would force Microsoft (they have people to answer to) to be more selective about who they hand the freebies out to afterwards.

    If there’s a freebie out there, someone’s gonna ruin the party for the legit beneficiaries at some point. May as well complain about the rain.

    [Response: I think you’ve all had your say about this. Time to agree to disagree?]

    • I don’t disagree with you at all on the principle, but I’m fairly certain MS will eventually scrutinise non-profits more, or just accept that they’ll be paying back a slice of their deductibles, which is a shame.

  33. ianvsbifrons


    We’ve been enjoying your website & very informed analyses of the climate science for a number of years now, & we appreciate the maintenance of a tight ship.

    However, we have to say we are quite surprised that, regarding such a vital climate change denial issue — i.e., the indiscriminate “charitable funding” by ubiquitous corporations like Microsoft & others of so-called “non-profits” clearly identified as bad actors like Joe Bast’s Heartland Institute & others — you chill the discussion when clearly the interest & options are not yet exhausted.

    That’s not what we’ve come to expect of a notably open-minded science blog.

    While some may feel uncomfortable holding Microsoft up as the standard for this issue, who better to exhibit the corporate leadership needed today for the rest to follow?

    [Response: I still think it’s unfair to characterize Microsoft as “funding Heartland.” I’ve had my say and reached the point where I’m ready to “agree to disagree.”

    That issue aside, I haven’t deleted or edited anyone’s comments, nor shall I (unless they sink beneath the threshold). But I have encouraged people to accept that they’ve said enough. It looked to me like the thread had reached the point that people were talking past each other, no real progress was being made, and nobody would “let it go” so it would continue … forever?

    If you have a point to make, go ahead. If you’re just not able to stop …]

  34. John Mashey

    I will raise one more point, which has been touched on slightly.
    Tax law really has not caught up with gifts of goods that have retail prices that bear little relationship to the marginal costs of production and distribution, specifically downloaded software and e-books. As it stands, gifts of such to 501(c)(3) represent *profit centers* not cost-neutral efforts.

    A plausible law might be:
    Deduct costs of production (~0), distribution (minimal, a few servers and some bandwidth), and administration (modest), and a little more, to encourage it, but not the retail or even OEM prices.

    MS is hardly the only company doing this, although they probably benefit most.

    See Techsoup.

    Of course, most 501(c)(3)s are legitimate, so this is generally a decent thing to do. It’s just really too bad that a tiny fraction bend the rules in a big way and really shouldn’t be 501(c)(3), but 501(c)(4) or for-profit, although of course that would cut them out of the major funding from foundations (Kochs, Scaife, L&H Bradley, Seid, etc) which are constraiend to give only to 501(c)(3)s.

    Anyway, that gives two generic solutions, both of which are needed:
    1) Tighter checking on 501(c)(3) status.
    2) Tweaking the charity deduction rules for ~zero-marginal-cost gifts.

    The first is IRS execution, the second is Congress. I used to complain to my father, who worked for the IRS for a while, about the complexity of tax returns. He said the IRS tried hard to make them as simple as possible, but always had a hard time catching Cognressional efforts in the ohter direction.

  35. Gavin's Pussycat

    > As it stands, gifts of such to 501(c)(3) represent *profit centers* not
    > cost-neutral efforts.

    I may be missing something, but doesn’t that only apply when comparing the gift to the alternative of no gift? Rather than comparing the gift to the alternative of a sale?

    In this case, the truth would likely be somewhere inbetween.

  36. ianvsbifrons

    3 more corporate donors drop Heartland.

    Eli Lilly, BB&T, and Pepsi Confirm They Will No Longer Fund the Heartland Institute, Bringing the Total Number of Defections to Eleven

  37. Anne van der Bom

    I am losing interest in climateprogress fast. That site, together with forecastthefacts are the main disseminators of this “Microsoft is supporting Heartland” notion. It is starting to resemble a Jihad. A sort of suicide bombing mission. With our credibility on the chopping block.

    To ianvsbifrons I’d like to say: suppose this whole kerfuffle was about Microsoft providing free software to a pro-choice group and conservative christians trying to pressure Microsoft into withholding their free software. How would you feel about it then?

    If Joe Bast’s secretary gets 1 dollar off a pack of printer paper with a coupon, does Walmart support the Heartland Institute? Should a small note be printed on each coupon: “Nefarious organisations are not eligible for discount”?

    You seem so convinced that Microsoft needs to make an exception especially and only for the Heartland Institute that the only conclusion is that you have elevated your opinion to absolute truth. And that is the really scary part.

  38. Anne,

    Let’s see, ‘”jihad”, “suicide bombing”, “chopping block”, all in rapid fire. You really do like those guys, oui? But let’s not forget the LA Times, NY Times, The Guardian, & all the rest of those truth-seekers out there trying to get to the bottom of Heartland’s money & support.

    Microsoft provides free products & services to a known anti-science denier fossil-fuel funded PR group, namely The Heartland Institute, that lies & deceives the American public about the science & dangers of anthropogenic climate change & openly attacks respected climate scientists by billboard & website, & you call it a kerfluffle? We call it what it is: providing support for the Heartland Institute & their Unabomber message.

    And whether or not Heartland or Joe Bast is or was pro-choice or conservative Christian or pro-life or liberal Muslim would make us feel no different. Can you honestly say the same?

    And surely Microsoft’s free software & services are worth more than a dollar-off coupon, non?

    “Microsoft donated software worth $59,908 to Heartland in 2011, according to documents …”,0,7023138.story

    Finally, Anne, we absolutely single out Microsoft no more & no less than Tamino or that ever-shrinking list of exposed Heartland donors.

    Corporate Members Fleeing Heartland, ALEC

    “Attacks on science and scientists by Heartland and ALEC (both backed by the Koch Bros and big oil) are behind the poisoned debate over climate change policy. While Heartland stokes the attitude of climate denial, ALEC writes and pushes the laws to turn back the clock.”

    Scary, ain’t it?

    • And while many patriotic Americans hold leading corporate citizens like Microsoft & others to a higher standard, we also applaud those corporations & foundations who acknowledge & demonstrate their responsibility & accountability to “We the people.”

      McDonalds, Wendy’s, Gates Leave ALEC

      “It’s interesting to see that The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been supporters -contributing over $375,000 the past two years. They withdrew after being targeted by an online petition that got 23,000 signatures in a matter of hours. The Foundation says their grant was specifically for education-related legislation.”

      Good on ya, Bill.

  39. Brad Johnson

    One can argue or not whether it’s bad for Microsoft to exclude Heartland from its software donation program, but to claim that its tax-deductible contribution isn’t “support” is solipsistic nonsense. Of course it’s support. It’s a voluntary contribution of significant monetary value.

    If it weren’t support, then Microsoft wouldn’t get a tax break, and Heartland wouldn’t list the contribution in its budget. Support is “the activity of providing for or maintaining by supplying with money or necessities.”

    You may think it’s fine that Microsoft support Heartland because it supports many other (but not all) non-profits, but to say that it’s not support is just silliness.

  40. Anne van der Bom


    I am not defending the Heartland institute, nor criticizing anyone for putting pressure on corporations to withdraw their support. But you must realise that a conscious, explicict donation is something *fundamentally* different from a no-questions-asked discount, no different from so many other discounts (eg coupons, bulk) that companies, individuals and non-profits are eligible for.

    If Microsoft caves in to our demands (“our”, because I still think we’re on the same side in the greater battle against climate change denial), that will open the floodgates. Many more action groups will start putting pressure on Microsoft. I used the pro-choice as an example because it is another contentious subject, not because it has anything to do with Joe Bast.

    My metaphor was just that: a metaphor. The fact that you focus on the amount and ignore the underlying principle signals to me you don’t want to understand the issue at hand: there is a fundamental difference between Microsoft and the others, as Tamino has clearly explained.

    The fact that I compared it to a suicide mission is because it bears a great resemblance in the fact that it is intended to do maximum damage fo the adversary without regard to collateral damage. The end justifies the means. Well, not for me.

    • Anne,

      If you’re actively against anti-science fossil-fueled-funded climate change denial & attacks on respected climate scientists, then we be allies. However, excusing or excepting Microsoft or others because of some “general business rule” or specific “bug” is naively misguided. Can you imagine the limitless “charitable tax-breaks” that will innundate Heartland & ALEC when word of this acceptable exception gets back to corporate boardrooms?

      While the intent of the donor merits special recognition, the amount & effect of its charitable contribution matter even more. And Microsoft donating ~$60,000 of free products & services last year does enable Joe Bast & Co. to better execute his nefarious mission to destroy climate scientists, whether MSFT intended that or not. So, while some may argue for a difference of intent, there be no fundamental difference in execution & impact.

      Regarding worthy donees getting ignored, we very much doubt that Microsoft will discontinue putting its “free” product into the hands of potential future customers, even after “screening out” the publicly outed Heartland Institute. For us, the termination of all support, no matter the source, sooner brings the end of Heartland & its nefarious mission.

      [Response: A question for you.

      Suppose you have a choice. Either (A) things the way they are now, or (B) Microsoft gives free software to nobody, not the United Way, or the Boy Scouts of America, or Planned Parenthood, or Catholic Charities, or the Sisters of Mercy, or Rosie’s Place (shelter for battered women and children), or any other charity. Which do you choose? Feel free to expound about why you think this may be an unrealistic question, but only AFTER you have answered it.

      A or B?]

      • [edit]

        [Response: Feel free to wax philosophic on the issue, AFTER you answer the question. A or B?]

      • We gave an honest answer, tamino. Since we find neither A nor B the only possible real world options, we, in conscience, chose neither & then offered C, a real world compromise.

        You would have to agree that either/or framing is not the total set of realistic solutions here.

        And, while deleting our fervent response is entirely your prerogative, it is hardly representative of open discourse.

        [Response: Your option “C” is not a real-world compromise. It’s an unrealistic fantasy, you just don’t want to face the fact.

        You’re avoiding the real issue. Which is: what’s more important to you — punishing Microsoft for what you perceive as a sin (but I don’t), or assisting worthwhile charities? I suspect it’s the former, which doesn’t argue well for your motives.

        And frankly, your refusal to answer is the real breach of open discourse.]

  41. Anne van der Bom

    Dear Brad,

    As I explained to IANVS and as Tamino layed out, Microsoft’s “support” is not an explicit, conscious donation. It is just an unfortunate side effect of a general business rule. To try and fix this “bug” would inevitably lead to the end of the program, with tens of thousands of good non-profit organisations as collateral damage. Is that what you want?

    What Microsoft does is not fundamentally different from the US Postal Service giving the Heartland Institute a special discount on their bulk mailings. The US Postal Service doesn’t ask the Heartland Institute to open all those envelopes so they can read the letters and judge whether or not the content is worthy of a discount. It might even be the USPS decides not to deliver the letters at all, not wanting to facilitate the spreading of lies and disinformation.

    Wouldn’t that be good? No, it would be unthinkable. The US Postal Service just delivers the mail according to their business rules, whether they or we or anyone else likes the message or not.

    I support your organisation and think you’re doing a wonderful job. But I would like to ask you to reconsider your position on this matter. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

  42. re: “I suspect it’s the former, which doesn’t argue well for your motives.”

    Then your suspicions would be off base, tamino. Clearly, our motives are to encourage the termination of all support for Heartland & their attacks on climate science and scientists, whether it comes from Microsoft, AT&T, Time-Warner, or any of the remaining Heartland donors, no matter their past sins.

    And Microsoft continuing its program of free products & services to worthy charitable entities while terminating them for the likes of Heartland is not unrealistic fantasy. Rather, it is doable & commendable & frees up more resources for worthy charities. Moreover, it’s another opportunity for Microsoft to stand against Heartland & their unconscionable attacks on science & scientists, as have State Farm, Verizon, PepsiCo, & the other corporate citizens who have already terminated their support for Heartland.

    And we applaud those companies & their management who have faced the facts & encourage Microsoft to join their ranks on this most important real world issue.

    “We applaud the decision of [Microsoft, AT&T, & Time-Warner] to sever their relationship with the Heartland Institute and its denial of scientific fact.”

    We suspect that many employees & users & donees of Microsoft are eager to hear such approval, even from Brad Johnson or Jim Rohm or Andy Revkin. We & our grandkids certainly do.