Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s political advocacy group, Fwd.us, has enlisted heavyweights like Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Al Gore’s business partner, John Doerr, to help push for immigration reforms that will benefit the tech industry’s heavy reliance on foreign talent.
“Why do we kick out the more than 40 percent of math and science graduate students who are not U.S. citizens after educating them?” asked Zuckerberg in a Washington Post editorial. “Why do we offer so few H-1B visas for talented specialists that the supply runs out within days of becoming available each year, even though we know each of these jobs will create two or three more American jobs in return?”
To advance its agenda, Fwd.us has created two organizations–Americans For a Conservative Direction and the Council for American Job Growth. The former is meant to appeal to conservatives, the latter to attract progressives.
“Maintaining two separate entities, Americans for a Conservative Direction and the Council for American Job Growth, to support elected officials across the political spectrum–separately–means that we can more effectively communicate with targeted audiences of their constituents,” says FWD.us spokeswoman Kate Hansen.
Fwd.us, which the Wall Street Journal says aimed to raise $50 million, has tapped former National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director Rob Jesmer to lead the group. The group also counts former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart as an adviser.
“We will use online and offline advocacy tools to build support for policy changes,” says Zuckerberg. “And we will strongly support those willing to take the tough stands necessary to promote these policies in Washington.”
Critics say Zuckerberg’s foray into Washington politics is little more than a “self-serving immigration crusade” designed to boost profits and ingratiate himself with the lawmakers threatening to regulate him.
“The real goal is to put Zuckerberg and Facebook front and center with the Washington elite… to better extinguish a growing call to regulate how his company does business,” says executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy Jeff Chester.
Whatever the motivation, Zuckerberg has put money into building his political muscle. Last year, Facebook spent $4 million on lobbying, an increase 20 times its 2009 lobbying expenditures.
Indeed, Silicon Valley as a whole finds itself investing more money than ever before. Last year, tech companies spent a record-breaking $132.5 million on lobbying.