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Bill Gates testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1998. Photo: Jessica Persson/AFP/Getty Images

Key players in the Microsoft antitrust fight — which the Justice Department brought to court 20 years ago this month — have one piece of advice for tech companies facing criticism now: Engage with your critics before it’s too late.

Why it matters: A whole new generation of powerful companies is in the spotlight in Washington now. The issues today are different but the dynamics are similar.

What they’re saying:

  • Policymakers want to hear from the companies they’re criticizing. “I think criticism can be a very good thing. It can be an advantage to a company if they pay attention to it and work with the people who are doing the criticizing,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing with Bill Gates, after an appearance at an event focused on the Microsoft case and hosted by longtime Google foe Yelp. “And if our criticisms are not good, or they’re questionable, I think you ought to take us on.”
  • Veteran Microsoft-ers think it’s in their best interest to talk with tech's critics. “It has made me a lifetime believer in the importance of actually trying to reach out more proactively and solve problems before they get too big to be solvable,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president who joined the company as a lawyer in the midst of its antitrust fight, in an interview with Axios in February.

The big picture: Previous battles between tech and skeptical antitrust regulators, from Microsoft’s case to the government’s landmark breakup of AT&T, have become newly relevant in an era when Google, Facebook and Amazon are all facing allegations of being anticompetitive. Progressive groups are launching a major ad campaign urging the Federal Trade Commission to break up Facebook, and "60 Minutes" ran a segment making the case that Google is a monopolist.

Jack Krumholtz created Microsoft's Washington, DC office in 1995. Today he says the new tech giants are already learning the lessons of the past and have built powerful lobbying shops.

  • Facebook spent $11.51 million on lobbying in 2017; Google spent $18.04 million; Amazon, which has grown its lobby shop recently, spent $12.84 million.
  • “There was a lot of work going on by our detractors to really undermine the company and we were playing catch up,” he said after his own panel at the Yelp event. “You've seen Google, Facebook, Amazon learn from that experience and really invest in engaging in Washington and defining their business models and their value propositions.”

Memo for DC: Manus Cooney, a former Hatch aide who is now a lobbyist, said on a panel at the event that lawmakers should do more to prepare for when they get their opportunities to confront the leaders of big tech companies. Too often today, he said, "the necessary prep work isn’t done.”

Go deeper: The Ringer has a new oral history of Microsoft’s battle with the government; John Heilemann wrote a definitive article on the case for Wired in 2000.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director says number of U.S. Omicron cases "likely to rise" — Two years of COVID-19 — Prior coronavirus infections may not protect well against Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Data demonstrates most-vaccinated counties less vulnerable to worst of COVID — Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate.
  4. World: Vaccine mandates lose steam in the U.S. while Europe doubles downWHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

Vulnerable Democrats: Less Trump talk

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Vulnerable House Democrats are convinced they need to talk less about the man who helped them get elected: President Trump.

Why it matters: Democrats are privately concerned nationalizing the 2022 mid-terms with emotionally-charged issues — from Critical Race Theory to Donald Trump's role in the Jan. 6 insurrection — will hamstring their ability to sell the local benefits of President Biden's Build Back Better agenda.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan tributes flood in for "giant of the Senate" Bob Dole

Then-Vice President Joe Biden and former Sen. Bob Dole at an event put on by the World Food Program where he was awarded the first “McGovern-Dole Leadership Award” in December 2013. Photo: Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call

Republican and Democratic politicians, including former Senate colleagues, are sharing condolences and memories commemorating the life of Bob Dole, who passed away at 98 on Sunday morning.

The big picture: Dole, the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, was the longest serving Republican leader in the Senate until 2018, when current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell surpassed his record.