Jonathan Last points to Michael Kinsley's new oped in the LA Times, in which Kinsley explains that his old boss at Slate, Bill Gates, was a Jefferson Smith-type innocent who didn't understand that the city slickers of Washington D.C. would fleece him unless he hired lots of lawyers and lobbyists. Kinsley asserts:
For many years before the [Clinton Administration's antitrust] lawsuit, Microsoft had virtually no Washington "presence." It had a large office in the suburbs, mainly concerned with selling software to the government. Bill Gates resisted the notion that a software company needed to hire a lot of lobbyists and lawyers. He didn't want anything special from the government, except the freedom to build and sell software. If the government would leave him alone, he would leave the government alone.
At first this was regarded (at least in Washington) as naive. Grown-up companies hire lobbyists. What's this guy's problem? Then it was regarded as foolish. This was not a game. There were big issues at stake. Next it came to be seen as arrogant: Who the hell does Microsoft think it is? Does it think it's too good to do what every other company of its size in the world is doing?
Ultimately, there even was a feeling that, in refusing to play the Washington game, Microsoft was being downright unpatriotic. Look, buddy, there is an American way of doing things, and that American way includes hiring lobbyists, paying lawyers vast sums by the hour, throwing lavish parties for politicians, aides, journalists, and so on. So get with the program.
So that's what Microsoft did. It moved its government affairs office out of distant Chevy Chase, Md., and into the downtown K Street corridor. It bulked up on lawyers and hired the best-connected lobbyists. Soon Microsoft was coming under criticism for being heavy-handed in its attempts to buy influence. But the sad thing is that it seems to have worked. Microsoft is no longer Public Enemy No. 1.
Okay, I've heard that before, so maybe it's true. But here's what I don't get. In the movie Casino Jack (now out on video, here's my review), Kevin Spacey plays out-of-control lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In the first half of the movie, Abramoff works in DC for a big law and lobbying firm called Preston Gates & Ellis. Wikipedia explains:
Preston Gates & Ellis, LLP, also known as Preston Gates, was a law firm with offices in the United States, China and Taiwan. ... Preston Gates was ranked among the top 100 law firms in the United States by both The American Lawyer magazine and the National Law Journal, and was traditionally considered, along with Perkins Coie, one of the two leading Seattle-based law and lobbying firms.
The "Gates" in the firm's name is William H. Gates, Sr., father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Gates retired from the firm in 1998. ...
The Gates are Democrats, by the way, just like the Clintons.
The firm's Washington, DC office is known as Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds LLP. When it was opened in 1973, partners included Emanuel Rouvelas, former counsel to the Senate Commerce Committee, and former Congressman Lloyd Meeds (D-WA). Among its major clients is Microsoft, which paid PGE over $1,380,000 for lobbying various federal government institutions. During that time the chairman of the firm was William Neukom, who was employed by Microsoft as head of its legal department. ...
From 1994 to 2001, Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds LLP employed Jack Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist later convicted for his illegal activities.  Abramoff was hired by partner Emanuel Rouvelas following the Republican takeover of Congress: according to the Seattle Times (1995), although the firm's representatives were half Democratic and half Republican, they "didn't have a conservative, Christian Coalition Republican with strong ties to the new Republican leadership."
So, I'm a little skeptical about the notion that Bill Gates Jr. was just a poor rube from the sticks who didn't know about the importance of lobbying in Washington when his dad was a name partner of the firm that unleashed Jack Abramoff on the world. Moreover, one of the specialties of Preston Gates & Ellis was antitrust defenses of corporations accused of monopoly. I don't really understand the full story here: it doesn't make sense that Gates Jr. wouldn't understand lobbying. Maybe what happened is that Gates Sr. reassured Gates Jr. that he had D.C. covered for him — Trust me, son, I'm a pro at this — but he let his kid down.
Or maybe Gates Jr. held Gates Sr.'s career in contempt? But they seem like they have respectful and pleasant relations. That's all just speculation, but it seems like there must be a a human interest story here that I've never heard spelled out.
P.S. Yes, I will pre-emptively admit to commenters that, indeed, it is petty and makes me look bad that I try to find out more about people like Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Muamar Gaddafi, and so forth. I realize that these gentlemen go to great expense to employ PR agents who will tell us all we need to know about them.