SEATTLE, Aptil 11 (AP)--Ralph Reed, a top strategist to George W. Bush, has been working for more than a year for Microsoft Corp. to defend it against "lobbying attacks" in Washington, D.C., a company spokesman said Tuesday.

However, Reed, former leader of the Christian Coalition, has "never talked to the governor about Microsoft. There's been no personal lobbying," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer told The Associated Press.

Despite, Reed's firm Tuesday apologized for encouraging "a small number of individuals" to express their views about the Microsoft case to Bush, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. The firm said it would halt the contacts.

Century Strategies, which was founded by Reed, was never "retained for the purpose of influencing Governor Bush," according to a statement released by the political consulting group. Although Reed is a senior consultant to Bush's campaign, he has never asked Bush to take a position on the government's anti-trust case against Microsoft, the statement said.

However, "in the course of a broader program to encourage citizens to express their views to presidential candidates of both parties, including Al Gore and Bill Bradley, a small number of individuals were encouraged to make their views known to Governor Bush," the company said.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Microsoft hired Reed, founder of a political consulting group called Century Strategies, to get Bush to support the Microsoft's position in the Justice Department's antitrust case if he wins the November presidential election.

The Times reported that "influential" Bush supporters had been asked to write the Republican presidential hopeful stating their support for Microsoft.

Dan Leach, a Microsoft spokesman, told the AP that Century Strategies was hired about a year and a half ago.

"It's one of several companies that we hired to defend ourselves from our competitors' lobbying attacks," Leach said.

"We are not hoping or expecting that any different administration will pull back or withdraw this (antitrust) case," he added. "We believe and we fully expect that we will win this case on appeal."

Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray told the Times that the company hired Century Strategies to counter "a comprehensive lobbying campaign by our competitors" to promote the government's suit.

He said Microsoft has been trying to get its point across to all the presidential candidates.

A spokeswoman for Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, Ginny Terzano, formerly worked as a spokeswoman at the Clinton White House and at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Last week, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that Microsoft violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by bundling its Internet Explorer Web browser with its Windows operating system software. Microsoft said it would appeal.

There is precedent for a new administration changing course in a major antitrust case. In 1982, just a year into the Reagan administration, the Justice Department threw out a 13-year-old antitrust case against IBM.

During a February visit to Seattle, before the judge's ruling, Bush said he wouldn't comment on details of the Clinton administration's antitrust case, but added that "as president, the question should be innovation as opposed to litigation."

Gore has recently declined to comment on "an ongoing legal proceeding." But in November, while visiting Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash., he said stern antitrust action sometimes is needed to break up "unhealthy concentrations of power" that snuffs out competition.

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