By Elizabeth M. Gillespie Associated Press Writer
SEATTLE (AP) - Microsoft Corp. said Friday it has severed ties with Ralph Reed, a Republican lobbyist who once headed the Christian Coalition and who is running for lieutenant governor in Georgia. "Ralph Reed is no longer on retainer with Microsoft," company spokeswoman Ginny Terzano told The Associated Press.
The move came a month after liberal activists urged Microsoft to quit using Reed as a political consultant, upset that the software company had pulled its support for a gay rights bill it had backed in the past. The company has since said it will support such legislation in the future.
"Microsoft has a wide range of consultants on retainer, both Democrats and Republicans, and they are brought on based on need and for various reasons, but it's not our policy to discuss specifics about their retainers," Terzano said.
She noted that Century Strategies, a public relations and lobbying firm Reed founded in 1997, lobbied for Microsoft on international trade and competition, not social issues.
While she wouldn't comment on Reed's candidacy for lieutenant governor, Terzano said: "It would not be appropriate to have a consultant on retainer that is seeking elective office at the same time."
Century Strategies did not immediately return a call for comment.
Reed was executive director of the Christian Coalition from 1989 to1997. He was credited with being the major force behind the organization's fund-raising success. Last year, he was the southeast regional chairman of President Bush's re-election campaign.
In the waning days of this year's legislative session in Olympia, gay rights groups criticized Microsoft for backing away from its past support of a bill that would have made it illegal to discriminate against gays in housing, employment and insurance.
The bill died by a single vote in the state Senate on April 21.
Liberal bloggers called Microsoft a corporate coward, accusing the company of caving to a boycott threat from an evangelical minister. Microsoft, one of the first companies to extend domestic partner benefits to gay couples, insisted it had decided to take a neutral stance on the bill before the legislative session began.
Two weeks ago, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told employees the company had decided to support the bill in future years, saying it was important for the company to back legislation promoting diversity and nondiscrimination policies.
Equal Rights Washington, a Seattle-based group that had lobbied for the gay rights bill, called on Microsoft to fire Reed.
Asked if that influenced the company's decision fire Reed's firm, Terzano declined to comment, saying: "Microsoft retains and lets consultants go throughout the course of the year based on the company's needs. And that was the case here."
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