TIME ballot initiatives

9 Surprising Times Corporations Backed Ballot Measures

A building on the Microsoft Headquarters campus is pictured July 17, 2014 in Redmond, Washington.
Stephen Brashear—Getty Images A building on the Microsoft Headquarters campus is pictured July 17, 2014 in Redmond, Washington.

When corporations give money to get a ballot issue passed, the issue often affects their bottom lines.

A gambling company gives millions to allow the opening of a new casino; an agricultural giant spends huge sums to block mandatory labeling on genetically modified foods; or an electric company finances a measure to make it harder for municipalities to create their own power companies.

But occasionally, the corporate interest — and the shareholder interest — is a bit harder to identify.

In 2014, athletic-wear giant Nike Inc. put $50,000 toward an Oregon measure that would have eliminated separate party primaries in elections and $3,300 toward another issue that promised equal rights for women. In 2012, the company spent $5,000 to support gay marriage in a referendum in Washington, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

The Center for Public Integrity reviewed 55 publicly traded companies and top corporate givers to ballot measures and found nine instances of curious positions — positions taken even when the companies’ policies emphasize their business interests as the overriding criteria in doling out political contributions.

The areas of interest were fairly diverse, but most seemed to focus on social issues or were aimed at fundamental changes to how state government operates.

Playing politics

When spending is aimed at playing politics, rather than business, it raises concerns with activists and shareholders, said Bruce Freed, president of the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit that advocates for transparency in corporate political spending.

“Companies need clear policies, and they need to follow those policies,” he said. “I think there is significant shareholder concern.”

What interest Nike had in the Oregon initiative on primaries remains a matter of speculation, as the company did not give a specific explanation when asked. A spokesman said the company gives based on “the merits of the ballot initiative, including the potential direct or indirect impact to our business.”

Nike policy states that political contributions are “to protect or enhance shareholder value.”

Corporate giving to politics has come under more scrutiny since the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission opened the door for corporations and unions to spend more advocating for or against candidates.

But even before that ruling, business interests have been generous givers to ballot measure campaigns, unhampered by limitations since a 1978 Supreme Court ruling.

In 2014 alone, business interests accounted for more than three-quarters of the $266 million given by top donors to statewide ballot measures.

Courting decision-makers

Some of the contributions that don’t line up with company policy appear to be aimed at building corporate political clout in the states.

Companies are keen to make governors and legislatures as friendly as possible to business, according to Paul Kelly, a board member of the Association of Government Relations Professionals, which represents lobbyists.

Sometimes that means contributing to issues that control how those politicians are elected.

Exxon Mobil Corp. opposed public funding of political campaigns and stricter contribution limits in California in 2006.

Companies may also win friends by giving to ballot measures backed by powerful state leaders.

AT&T Inc. and Altria Group Inc., for example, gave to a pair of California government finance initiatives championed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014. In Maine, AT&T, Waste Management Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. were among more than a dozen companies that helped fight the repeal of a governor-backed school consolidation plan in 2009.

“That, too, can be an effective tactic,” Kelly said. “It goes on to some degree in order to be involved and help people that you have to work with.”

Coca-Cola’s policy says that it gives politically to benefit the “long-term, sustainable growth of our global beverage business.”

Coca-Cola spokesman Kent Landers said that the company opposed the Maine repeal measure because the company supports education. “Education is one of the keys to socioeconomic development in the communities in which we operate,” he wrote in an email.

Waste Management said the Maine school plan helped stabilize the state’s budget, which aided the company’s local business interests; Altria and Exxon Mobil did not say specifically how their contributions fit with their policies.

AT&T did not respond to requests for comment.

Risk or reward?

Experts are divided over whether using contributions to create political allies can actually help a company’s bottom line. Robert J. Shapiro, a senior fellow at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy who has written on this issue, said corporate political activity generally boosts business.

“Companies spend this kind of money because it produces a return,” he said. “Corporations are not irrational actors.”

Not all shareholders agree. Critics of corporate political giving warn of risks to a company’s reputation, citing protests outside retailing giant Target Corp.’s doors in 2010 after the company gave to a pro-business political action committee that backed a candidate who opposed gay marriage.

Since 2014, shareholders have sponsored at least 58 proposals about political spending at annual meetings of Fortune 250 companies, according to an analysis of the Proxy Monitor database, which is sponsored by the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy. None passed.

Zevin Asset Management, a Boston firm that calls itself a pioneer in socially responsible investing, helped craft one unsuccessful shareholder resolution in 2013 that asked Exxon Mobil to study whether it should stop political giving.

“We still think there’s reason for concern and risk to shareholder value by companies using funds to influence elections,” said Zevin President Sonia Kowal. “The returns are unclear.” Click here for more stories in this series

All or nothing

Some public companies, such as Accenture PLC, make it a policy not to give to ballot measures.

Still others give widely with no concrete policies or explanations — Wal-Mart Stores Inc., for example, gave at least $100,000 to support the 2014 California government finance measures but has said in documents that sharing the “business rationale” behind political contributions “would place our company at a competitive disadvantage by revealing our long-term business strategies.”

Other firms have policies explicitly saying they give to a wide range of ballot measures as a form of community involvement. These broader policies are intended to benefit not just stockholders but “stakeholders,” including employees, customers and more.

Microsoft Corp. has a global public policy agenda that takes stances on the environment, education and other issues. In 2012, it gave $99,500 to support gay marriage in its home state of Washington and earlier this year published a blog post defending its contribution.

“Diversity and inclusion help drive our business and our bottom line,” the company wrote. “Our customers literally are as diverse as the people of the world. To create technology that empowers the world, we need a workforce that reflects the diversity of the world.”

This story is from The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative media organization in Washington, D.C. Read more of its investigations on the influence of money in politics or follow it on Twitter.

TIME Minecraft

Minecraft Inventor Markus Persson: Being a Billionaire Is Lonely

GAME British Academy Video Games Awards - London
Yui Mok—PA Wire/Press Association Images Swedish programmer and creator of Minecraft Markus Persson.

His melancholy tweets are raising eyebrows

Is it tough being a billionaire? Minecraft creator Markus Persson recently seemed to suggest he isn’t fully enjoying his financial freedom.

A series of Tweets that Persson sent out caught the attention of several members of the media, with Re/code and others claiming Persson seemed lonely and isolated while hanging out in glamorous Ibiza.

Persson, you may recall, scored a massive deal when the developer company he founded – Mojang – was acquired by Microsoft for $2.5 billion. He left the company to start his own projects, thus Persson is no longer associated with the game he created.

The deal is part of why his personal worth has been pegged at about $1.3 billion, according to Forbes.

Here’s an example of a tweet that caught the media’s attention:

After the tweets lead to national headlines, Persson on Monday chided the media, and said he’s doing just fine these days.

TIME Video Games

This Xbox Bundle Comes With a Crazy New Controller

Microsoft

It'll set you back half a grand, but it comes with a faster hard drive and boutique ultra-customizable wireless controller.

Upgrading the Xbox One’s storage space became a non-issue when Microsoft added support for external hard drives a while back, but slipping a tiny hard drive inside the black box to reduce clutter and prune your power strip? Still a trick.

The Xbox One Elite Bundle, just announced Monday, offers a fairly typical solution but with an unusual perk. Instead of simply popping a 1 terabyte hard drive in the box, hiking the price and calling it a day, Redmond’s gone a step further and upgraded the classic cylinder-based drive to a solid state hybrid version. That means the drive has a small solid state partition (generally much faster than cylinder storage) on which it’ll store your most frequently accessed files, reducing metrics like load times as well as energy usage.

Microsoft hasn’t identified who the drive manufacturer is, nor what percent of the drive’s total is solid state, nor what the drive’s technical ratings are (with solid state hybrid drives, performance can vary considerably). It’s only saying the drive will allow players to “get to the action up to 20% faster from energy-saving mode.”

Another bundle perk: it’ll come with the Xbox One Elite wireless controller, the much-anticipated retool of the system’s already laudable de facto controller with interchangeable paddles, hair trigger locks, “high-performance construction” and the option to customize just about everything else. The Elite controller is due out as a standalone next month; this is the first (and only) version of the Xbox One it’ll ship with as a pack-in.

And if you’re weary of the regular Xbox One’s easily scratched, smudge-magnetic glossy finish, the Xbox One Elite will ship with a matte texture. Microsoft says it will sell the system for $499 in the U.S. exclusively through GameStop and Microsoft Stores starting November 3 (GameStop’s annual expo runs this week, thus the announcement timing).

The controller by itself, due a trifle sooner in October, is going to be pretty pricey at $149.99. So putting it in a bundle with a desirable matte-finish Xbox One that’s also sporting a superior solid state hybrid drive appears to be at least a modest money-saver, considering the stock Xbox One with half as much storage (a 500GB cylinder hard drive) runs $349, or $399 for the 1TB model.

TIME Apple

Apple Is Leading the Dow’s Comeback

The Dow plunged 1,000 points on open but Apple's stock is green.

Shares of Apple recovered in Monday afternoon trading after slumping badly along with the broader market as investors fretted about a weak economy in China.

The stock, which was at one point the worst performer of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, is now the best performer. It is up around 2%, even as the broader index is down more than 180 points. Two other tech firms – Microsoft and Intel – were the only other stocks trading in positive territory among the 30 shares that make up the DJIA.

Apple has depended on China for growth in recent years, so it made sense the shares would be hit by concerns that a weak economy there could result in fewer gadget sales. But the upward move could be because some investors sensed a buying opportunity. Apple’s shares are trading at around $108 apiece currently, the lowest level since January. The stock has lost around 20% of its value in the past month.

The recovery could also be attributed to a rare move by CEO Tim Cook to reassure investors. Cook sent an e-mail to CNBC’s Jim Cramer, telling the host that Apple’s growth remained “strong” through July and August with growth of iPhone activations accelerating in recent weeks.

TIME windows 95

Microsoft Launched This Product 20 Years Ago and Changed the World

Microsoft president Bill Gates demonstrates Micros
MICHEL GANGNE—AFP/Getty Images Microsoft president Bill Gates demonstrates Microsoft's Windows 95 program from his car prior to a press conference in Paris in September 1995.

We went crazy for Windows 95

There were round-the-block lines and Jennifer Aniston made an hour-long instructional video for it. Twenty years ago, Microsoft launched Windows 95, and promptly changed the way we interact with our computers.

On Aug. 24, 1995, Microsoft—at that time a tech company with around $6 billion in sales and 17,800 employees—introduced their newest operating system, a product the New York Times at that time called “the splashiest, most frenzied, most expensive introduction of a computer product in the industry’s history.”

Windows 95 had a few notable add-ons, not least being the now-famous Start menu, a feature so significant that the company dedicated its launch ad to it.

Windows 95 also debuted the multi-tasking toolbar, the minimize-and-maximize window buttons and Internet Explorer, a browser that signaled the company’s intentions to dominate the nascent Internet sphere, as detailed in a famous Bill Gates-memo that same year.

The OS was a hit from the start, selling 7 million copies—at that time packaged in CDs and disks that cost $210 per box—in the first seven weeks alone. It would sell 40 million units in its first year.

Now, the Windows operating system has dropped in the Microsoft totem pole—their latest Windows 10 OS was given out for free, and CEO Satya Nadella has called for staff members to cut the cords of the past: “Our industry does not respect tradition—it only respects innovation,” he said in a company-wide email upon his appointment last February.

Read next: You Can Now Run Windows 10 On Your Mac

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TIME apps

This Is How You Remove Candy Crush From Windows 10

A person plays Candy Crush Saga developed by British King Digital Entertainment, on March 6, 2014.
Philippe Huguen —AFP/Getty Images A person plays Candy Crush Saga developed by British King Digital Entertainment, on March 6, 2014.

Find it just too tempting? Here's what to do

To the excitement of some and ire of others, the massively popular gaming app Candy Crush comes pre-installed on Microsoft’s new Windows 10 operating system.

While this may be good news for many fans of the addictive game, some users—worried about the time they may be tempted to waste—have complained about the automatic app in their Windows 10 upgrade and want the game removed.

If right clicking on the app icon in the Start Menu and selecting uninstall doesn’t work, then the website Tech News Today has a handy step-by-step guide to making your computer Candy Crush-free.

Check it out here.

TIME

You Can Now Run Windows 10 On Your Mac

A 13-inch Apple MacBook Air laptop computer
Simon Lees—MacFormat Magazine via Getty Images A 13-inch Apple MacBook Air laptop computer

You'll need a recent Mac to do it.

Thanks to the new Boot Camp 6 update, you can now run Windows 10 on your Mac. Boot Camp, a program that allows users of Intel-based Macintosh computers to run the Microsoft Windows XP operating system, was revealed to be updated in a new support document on Apple’s website.

MacRumors reports “the update is still propagating and is not yet available for OS X,” however some MacRumors members “have noted the update is available within Windows partitions in Boot Camp.”

As of now, it appears this update will not be supported on Macs pre-2012 or on Macs not operating on OS X Yosemite—the full list of compatible Mac models can be found here.

The new Boot Camp 6 update also supports the following Mac features in Windows 10: USB 3, USB-C, Thunderbolt, built-in SD or SDXC card slot, built-in or USB Apple SuperDrive, and your Apple keyboard, trackpad, and mouse.

Windows 10 is a free update for existing Windows users, but you’ll need to purchase either the $199 Windows 10 Pro or $119 Windows 10 Home if you’re a new user.

TIME

Now Outlook Can Order You an Uber, Make a Paypal Payment

Uber Tops Taxis
Jeff Chiu—AP

Microsoft is adding Uber, PayPal, Evernote, and Boomerang add-ins to its email services

In its quest to make Outlook as cool as Google’s Gmail, Microsoft is adding some bells and whistles to its email service.

Starting now, Outlook.com users can integrate Uber, PayPal, Evernote, and Boomerang add-ins into their email and calendar. This means users can connect their account to these and receive useful notifications, such as to order an Uber ride prior to a meeting (and even ordering it through the reminder), or the ability to send a friend some money through PayPal via email. Some of these add-ins — like Uber and Boomerang — were already available for the few with access to Outlook.com’s new design, though the company is rolling it out to more users now.

Add-ins for business reviews community Yelp, to-do list software Wunderlist (which Microsoft acquired), and IFTTT, a service for connecting all kinds of apps and notifications, will be coming in the future, Microsoft said.

Uber, PayPal, Evernote, and Boomerang are all already available on Outlook 2013 and Outlook on the web for users with Office 365, and Exchange 2013 mailboxes, with Outlook.com coming soon.

TIME windows 10

Microsoft Just Fixed Windows 10’s First Problems

The company is plugging security holes

Almost two weeks after its release, Windows 10 has received its first batch of security patches from Microsoft.

In its monthly round of security fixes, Microsoft has included five bulletins that address Windows 10 issues, and one that covers the new Edge browser included in their newly-launched operating system.

These patches include addressing vulnerabilities in the .NET framework that could allow for elevation of privilege (meaning a hacker could potentially make changes only a user with admin rights could make), vulnerabilities in a Microsoft graphics component that could allow remote code execution, and fixing an information disclosure vulnerability.

The patches, however, don’t resolve an issue some users have experienced with the Windows 10 store, where some couldn’t download new apps or updates to existing apps, according to CNET. Microsoft has promised to issue a fix for this problem within the next few days.

These bugs were one of the main gripes people had of Windows 10 upon its release into the wild. While most have praised the company’s newest version of Windows, some reviewers recommended holding off downloading the OS for a few weeks to let Microsoft iron out the kinks: “I’d suggest you wait six weeks. By then, Microsoft will have swatted most of the bugs,” said David Pogue of Yahoo Tech.

TIME Apple watch

Microsoft Just Gave the Apple Watch an Amazing New Feature

Apple Watch Available at Apple Retail Locations
Eric Thayer—Getty Images A customer with a newly purchased Apple Watch.

The device just keeps getting better

Quick and easy translation is right at your fingertips — or, more accurately, on your wrist — with the new Microsoft Translator for Apple Watch.

Almost all early adopters of the Apple Watch were satisfied with the product, and this feature only makes it better. All you have to do is speak into your watch and you’ll have access to translations in 50 different languages. The translator can speak any translated phrases for you that you can’t figure out how to pronounce. The app also allows you to save your most commonly used translations and recently used phrases for even quicker access.

They have a companion app for the iPhone for times when you would prefer to type phrases into your phone or manage your settings on a larger screen. All settings and translations are synchronized between your iPhone and Apple Watch.

This is especially good news for spies who can now go unnoticed as they talk into their watches and just blend in with the rest of us trying to figure out how to say “Where’s the bathroom?” in Chinese.

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