Ballmer’s play for team angers senator

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s participation in the group trying to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle has riled a powerful California state lawmaker, who has hinted at retaliation against the software giant.

California Senate leader Darrell Steinberg recently sent a letter to the state’s procurement agency, asking for a listing and total value of all contracts the state has with Microsoft.

In his letter to the director of the California Department of General Services, Steinberg said he’d been distressed by recent reports of Ballmer’s involvement in the pending sale of the Kings.

“If true, I am troubled that a company and a CEO that has for so long enjoyed a prosperous and beneficial working relationship with the state of California and its taxpayers would blatantly engage in activities which are clearly and measurably detrimental to our state’s job and revenue base,” wrote Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat who is president pro tempore of the California State Senate.

It’s unclear whether Steinberg could do much to directly alter Microsoft’s current or future contracts with the state. He acknowledged in the letter he isn’t involved in the day-to-day management of the state’s technology purchases.

But in a news conference last week Steinberg stood by his letter, telling reporters it bothered him that Ballmer could be profiting from California taxpayers while trying to “rip a key asset out of the capital city.”

Microsoft is trying to keep its distance from the controversy.

In an emailed statement, the company pointed out the effort to lure the Kings “was initiated, and is led by San Francisco-based developer, Chris Hansen.” Although Ballmer is among the investors in Hansen’s group, the company statement said Microsoft “is not involved.”

A spokesman for Hansen’s group declined to comment.

In addition to a list of all Microsoft contracts with California, Steinberg requested the total amount of money the state has spent on Microsoft products and services over the past 10 years and whether any other state pays more money to the corporation annually.

A spokesman for the California Department of General Services said the agency is still researching that information.

Steinberg’s maneuvering comes as Sacramento leaders pull out all the stops to block the move of the city’s 27-year NBA franchise.

The pending sale of a majority stake in the Kings to Hansen’s group was announced last week. With a deal for a new Seattle arena approved by the city and King County, it has appeared Hansen is close to resurrecting a new Sonics franchise.

But the sale of the team from the Maloof family to the Seattle group led by Hansen and Ballmer still must be approved by the NBA Board of Governors. And the NBA reportedly could hear a counteroffer from Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who has been trying to assemble an ownership group to retain the Kings.

Steinberg’s Microsoft bashing has been met with some criticism, with readers of The Sacramento Bee dubbing his actions “parochial” and “thuggery” in letters to the editor.

Rhys Williams, a spokesman for Steinberg, rejected such criticisms.

“The notion that [Steinberg] is bullying one of the world’s largest and most successful corporations is, well, you can make your own conclusions,” he said.