Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s political advocacy group, FWD.us, has lost two high-profile Silicon Valley backers. Zuckerberg’s group is one of the more prominent backers of the Gang of 8 amnesty legislation, but has drawn fierce criticism from the left for also supporting the Keystone pipeline and expanded oil drilling in Alaska. The intent of this support was to protect potential supporters of amnesty from conservative back-lash. It was too cute by half.
After a public outcry from environmentalists, Elon Musk, whose electric car firm Tesla has received millions in federal support and David Sacks, founder of Yammer, publicly withdrew from Zuckerberg’s organization. Zuckerberg’s organization has hired a rolodex of DC insiders and sought to raise $50 million to pursue amnesty and other goals. The withdrawal of two highly-respected Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is a blow to that goal.
The controversy erupted when Zuckerberg’s group ran ads praising SC Sen. Lindsey Graham for supporting construction of the Keystone pipeline. A member of the Gang of 8 which authored the amnesty bill, Graham is potentially vulnerable to a conservative challenge in next year’s primary. The ad was clearly meant to give Graham conservative cover to push for amnesty.
Another ad applauded AK Sen. Mark Begich for supporting an expansion of oil drilling in Alaska. Begich, a Democrat, is up for reelection next year and is one of the more vulnerable Democrats seeking reelection. His vote for amnesty could jeopardize his reelection, so Zuckerberg’s group sought to build up his conservative credentials on an important issue to Alaskan voters.
The controversy has introduced Zuckerberg to the tangled web of DC interest politics. On paper, the ploy no doubt looked like a clever bank-shot to support amnesty. In reality, though, it touched the environmental movement’s third rail. Groups on the left may share many common purposes, but tactical moves can’t go against strategic goals. That jeopardizes a steady stream of fundraising.
The withdrawal of Musk and Sacks will likely embolden environmentalists to call on Bill Gates, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Google’s Eric Schmidt, and other prominent backers of Zuckerberg to “unfriend” his organization. DC is a tough town.