Whose trust is busted, Microsoft or Jim Ryan?

Whose trust is busted, Microsoft or Jim Ryan?

By Joe Wiegland

As Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan prepares to embark on an effort to win the Republican nomination for governor, pro-business Republicans encourage him to embrace the old Boy Scout admonition: “Leave your campground cleaner than you found it.” But Jim Ryan’s ongoing lawsuit against Microsoft makes it a difficult, if not impossible task.

Given the trial lawyer dominance of the Democratic Party, the Clinton-Reno assault on Microsoft was no surprise. Nor was it shocking that 20 predominantly Democratic state attorneys general would pile on the potential cash cow of a Microsoft breakup. It was disappointing that Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan is one of only a handful of Republicans who have joined the attack.

The large majority of Jim Ryan’s colleagues, Republican state attorneys general, did not support the remedy to break up the company. Perhaps they disagreed with the application of 19th century anti-trust laws to technology products and services that were not even within the realm of imagination of consumers a decade ago. Perhaps they disagreed with the implementation of the strongest form of regulation proposed in our lifetime. Perhaps they recognized the spirit of Lincoln’s observation that “the fire of American genius” fuels our economy. Or perhaps they realized what the trial court heard—not one consumer testifying to having been harmed by Microsoft or its business practices.

At the heart of the case was Microsoft’s aggressive marketing of its Internet Explorer web browser with its operating system—not exactly a case in the mold of 19th century robber barons bleeding the poor. Meanwhile, competitors like Sun Microsystems and America On Line, who whined for litigation in this case, have developed products and partnerships that demonstrate the futility of attempting to intervene in a market which develops with the speed of a Pentium chip. Nevertheless, complying with the spirit of the Appellate Court ruling, Microsoft has already “unbundled” its web crawler from its operating system. Unfortunately, it looks like that’s not enough for the state attorneys general who appear hungry for national political attention.

Meanwhile, Jim Ryan’s assault on Microsoft has cost the taxpayers in many ways. According to documents filed with the U.S. Court in July of 2000, Attorney General Jim Ryan and eight of his taxpayer-funded employees spent a total of 4,268 hours billing over a million dollars on the Microsoft attack. This accounting does not include the expenses associated with the pursuit of the case through appeal. Microsoft’s “unbundling,” combined with the Appellate Court’s reversal of the lower court’s order to break Microsoft, gives the public policy process an opportunity to pause and reconsider this ill-thought frenzy.

New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid, Democrat, has settled its case against Microsoft. She’s the second out of the original 20 to drop off the case—leaving Illinois one of only 18 states remaining on this case. Under the terms of the settlement, New Mexico will share equally in any remedies or payments determined through trial or further settlement. New Mexico’s AG can return her focus to real issues vital to New Mexico taxpayers and consumers. Contemplating a run for governor, Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan should return to principles of jurisprudence which are traditionally associated with the Republican Party.

Joe Wiegand is the executive director of the Family Taxpayers Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that works to champion a good moral and economic climate for Illinois families and taxpayers.

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