November 25, 2002
WASHINGTON--Geeks are beginning to realize they need to punish the
Luddites in Congress who are standing in the way of progress.
In a recent column, I suggested that the technology industry find a
way to reward its friends and, more importantly, punish its enemies.
Politicians have spent the past few years concocting increasingly
dangerous schemes, and targeting them for defeat in the next election
is one way to make them abandon their plans.
I didn't know it when I wrote that column, but there's good news to
report: Some efforts already are under way.
One plan is to resuscitate the dormant League for Programming Freedom
(LPF), which was founded in 1989 to oppose software patents. It's now
moribund, but the LPF may find a new life as a political action
committee opposing the disturbing expansions of copyright and patent
Dean Anderson, who has been president of the LPF since 1993, says he's
planning to work with free software maven Richard Stallman to organize
a meeting in the next few weeks in the Cambridge, Mass., area. "We're
going to get some people together from the old LPF and decide how we
want to proceed," Anderson says. "What I'd like to do is get more
people together to develop a consensus on what the next mission should
be, especially if we're going to re-incorporate (as a PAC)."
In its heyday, the LPF focused on software patents and user interface
copyright, including the Lotus v. Borland lawsuit over the design of
the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet. Software patents are as problematic for
today's programmers as they were a decade ago, but new threats such as
the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) have since emerged.
But forget PACs. Probably the best model to follow is that adopted by
Steve Moore, who runs the Club for Growth, which punishes pro-tax
candidates and rewards those who favor lower taxes and limited
government. It raised about $9.3 million during the last two-year
election cycle, and spent about $7 million to influence races (the
rest went to salaries, rent and overhead expenses).
Moore's group is incorporated as a PAC, but to avoid spending limits,
it doesn't operate as one. Under federal law, PACs are permitted to
spend only $5,000 on each candidate in an election. Instead, Club for
Growth targets an important race, asks its members to write checks,
then bundles them together and sends them to the candidate.