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  • FEC Record: Advisory opinions

AO 2018-11: Microsoft may provide enhanced security to political committees at no cost

September 13, 2018

Microsoft may offer a package of enhanced online account security features to federal candidates and party committees on a nonpartisan basis at no additional charge.

Background

Microsoft provides a range of cloud-based productivity applications and web-based email. As part of its planned “Account Guard” initiative, Microsoft asks if it may provide a package of enhanced online security protections for what it calls election-sensitive users, including federal, state, and local candidates as well as state and national political party committees, all of whom are paying users of Microsoft’s products. These services will include educational materials such as documentation, webinars, and possibly in-person cybersecurity trainings tailored to the needs of the campaign community. Second, Microsoft will investigate, confirm, and notify participants if their accounts have been targeted or breached by a nation-state actor. Finally, Microsoft will provide users with email and phone support to assist in securing accounts and remediating breaches.

Microsoft asserts that the provision of these services is consistent with its ordinary course of business and marketing practices. The provision of these services will help Microsoft increase its market share among these entities. Data received about these specific threats is of such value to Microsoft that it will occasionally purchase such data. Microsoft routinely offers different packages and pricing for its suite of applications, as well as free workshops and trainings tailored to specific types of customers.

Analysis

Corporations may provide goods and services to political committees without making an in-kind contribution so long as they do so on the same terms and conditions available to all similarly situated persons in the general public. Microsoft, for a variety of commercial reasons beyond mere promotion or goodwill, plans to offer AccountGuard at no additional cost to protect a group of similarly situated customers: election-sensitive users. Because of this, and because Microsoft would be providing these services based on commercial rather than political considerations, and in the ordinary course of business, Microsoft may offer the AccountGuard program at no additional charge on a nonpartisan basis to election-sensitive customers, including federal candidates and national party committees, without incurring an in-kind contribution. Moreover, the Commission notes that the provision of the AccountGuard program would further the Commission's implementation of the ban on foreign participation in elections.

Date issued: September 11, 2018; length: 5 pages

Citations

Regulations

11 CFR 100.52(d)
Definition of in-kind contribution

11 CFR 114.2(b)
Prohibition on contributions

Resources

  • Author 
    • Christopher Berg
    • Communications Specialist