When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg invited a group of what he called “leading conservatives” to his company’s Menlo Park HQ for a private meeting to attempt to smooth over public concerns about alleged Facebook smothering of conservative news, it certainly wasn’t the first time that Zuckerberg had danced with Republicans.
Zuckerberg has worked with pro-comprehensive immigration reform GOP insiders extensively to boost Silicon Valley’s use of controversial H-1B visas.
Zuckerberg’s relationship with Haley Barbour, Lindsey Graham, and other pro-amnesty Republicans began back in 2013 when New York Senator Chuck Schumer and his bipartisan group of Senators known as the Gang of Eight were trying to wrangle support for their comprehensive immigration reform package but couldn’t quite figure out where to fit the tech industry into their plans.
The Gang of Eight had been delegating some of the work to high dollar special interest and lobbying groups. Schumer and his Gang made the strategic decision to use the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO to fight it out and negotiate a deal that they could turn into policy.
Obviously, both groups had a dog in the fight. The Chamber wanted to make sure employers had a steady stream of low-skill, low-wage workers. Meanwhile, the unions wanted to get those workers to pay union dues. A deal was a win-win for the big groups but a disaster for Americans workers.
The wrangling left out high tech, however. Microsoft, Intel, Facebook, and other companies made up almost all of the lobbying dollars, but the more skilled tech workforce in fields like programming or IT didn’t fit into the wheelhouse of either the Chamber of Commerce or the AFL-CIO.
The Gang of Eight essentially let the tech industry write its own deal. In exchange, they wanted the high tech to back the entire immigration reform package, including all the stuff about the low wage workers that the tech industry didn’t care much about.
The pact sounded good to Silicon Valley: the tech giants would continue to get cheaper, easier to control foreign workers through the guest worker programs like the H-1B visa, while the Gang of Eight would get support for the less-skilled bedmakers and fruit pickers.
Everyone would win except for the American workers, who would continue to lose jobs and have wages stagnate.
So in 2013 Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg would found a group called FWD.us with people like longtime guest worker program advocate and beneficiary Bill Gates.
In retrospect, it’s amazing that comprehensive immigration reform failed to pass in 2013. The pro-reform forces had every possible advantage: organizational support on both the left and right, bipartisan support in the Senate, mass demonstrations across the country organized by institutional left groups like La Raza, and money… lots of money. As the National Review wrote in October, 2013:
Backing the push for comprehensive reform is an array of deep-pocketed special interests from an ostensibly diverse range of ideological perspectives, including the Chamber of Commerce, Rupert Murdoch, the Koch brothers, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg, George Soros, the AFL-CIO, the National Council of La Raza, and others. Zuckerberg alone has said he plans to spend $50 million, raised from donors in the technology industry, on ads supporting a comprehensive immigration bill.
On the other side, the forces against comprehensive immigration reform… well, they weren’t a force. While the conservative grassroots and the GOP-led House of Representatives were largely dead set against the Gang of Eight’s immigration push, groups like FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth both decided to sit out the immigration battle, leaving the Heritage Foundation as one of the only organizations to fight. The pro-reform side knew that they had the advantage, as NBC Latino reported in 2013:
The lawmakers said the pro comprehensive immigration reform groups have a leg up on their opponents.
“There’s virtually nobody organized against comprehensive immigration reform,” said Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky. “There is no money on the other side of the issue. There is nobody out there ready to spend $100 million against this.”
This statement shows how dire the situation was on immigration reform until Donald Trump threw his hat in the ring. Trump changed the conversation in immigration and forced some light on the H-1B guest worker visa program
Zuckerberg’s FWD.us was a leading coalition, and it worked both sides of the political aisle, helping both Democrats and Republicans.
On the left, Bloomberg reported on the involvement of the former chief strategist for billionaire and institutional left funder George Soros, Stanely Druckmiller:
Druckenmiller, 60, who has one of the best hedge-fund track records of the last three decades, joins technology titans including Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates and LinkedIn Corp. Executive Chairman Reid Hoffman, who’ve donated to Zuckerberg’s FWD.us.
On the right was a group Zuckerberg funded called Americans for a Conservative Direction. One of the key players was former two-term Mississippi Governor, RNC Chiefs and powerhouse lobbyist, Republican Hayley Barbour.
As FactCheck.org described the group, it had access to GOP elites like Barbour, the Bush family, and Paul Ryan:
Americans for a Conservative Direction is pushing the bipartisan immigration bill to a conservative audience. Its GOP-studded board includes former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour; Sally Bradshaw, a former chief of staff to then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; Joel Kaplan, a deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush and now vice president of U.S. public policy at Facebook; Dan Senor, a former advisor to Rep. Paul Ryan during the presidential campaign; and Rob Jesmer, who was executive director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee
Zuckerberg’s support of a Republican group drew immediate fire from his allies on the left, who blasted Zuckerberg for bankrolling and promoting South Carolina Republican and comprehensive immigration reform advocate Sen. Lindsay Graham. Time reported:
Those television commercials led the Sierra Club to post a message to the environmental group’s Facebook page on Monday urging Zuckerberg to “re-think his priorities.”
“Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is bankrolling political ads that push dangerous, dirty projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and drilling in America’s pristine Arctic Refuge,” says the message accompanying a thumbs-down graphic dripping with oil.
Zuckerberg’s buddy Sen. Graham would go on to a failed bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, become one of Trump’s harshest critics, and would end up throwing his support behind two different Trump opponents to try and monkeywrench the Donald.
Zuckerberg’s bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform alliance didn’t escape the notice of the right, either. Even now-NeverTrumper Erick Erickson mentioned the “Republican consultant class bleeding the RNC and Mitt Romney dry in 2012” at the time and Erickson even berated the group while pointing out the connections of Barbour and Bradshaw to the RNC’s audit committee:
If Zuckerberg wanted to do a low cost PAC to support an issue he cares about, that’s all well and good. But to look cheap and to be politically tone-deaf on the Lindsey Graham issue while calling the group Americans for a Conservative Direction is just pathetic. My guess is that the consultants involved saw just another way to make a quick buck without a lot of energy, thought, or effort. What I find fascinating is how connected to the Republican National Committee’s audit Haley Barbour and Sally Bradshaw are. Haley’s nephew Henry was on the audit committee, as was Sally Bradshaw herself.
Let’s follow the money for a moment, because it’s a good example of how some top Republicans have been working with other countries for years to impact American immigration policy in a way that clearly benefits those nations but has a questionable influence on the United States.
Take Barbour’s lobbying firm BGR Group.
Hayley Barbour co-founded The BGR Group: he’s the “B” in BGR. The Group’s “G” is Lanny Griffith, another Republican heavy hitter with a resume going back to the 1980s and a former Assistant Secretary of Education under George W. Bush. The “R” in BGR is Ed Rogers, whose company bio says he served ten years in the Bush and Reagan White Houses. Open Secrets lists BGR as one of Washington’s top 10 lobbying firms, billing over $32,000,000 in 2014-2015.
Barbour himself has been an active voice for comprehensive immigration reform, forming alliances on the issue with figures that most conservatives would find repugnant. In 2014, Barbour did a joint appearance with leftist Democrat rising star and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to promote comprehensive immigration reform.
However, BGR Group’s work lobbying for immigration reform on behalf of other countries goes back over a decade, as reported by Time:
According to a Justice Department filing by Barbour’s former lobbying firm, The Embassy of Mexico decided to retain Barbour’s services on August 15, 2001, to work on, among other things, legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for foreigners living illegally in the United States—what opponents of immigration reform call “amnesty.”
“Haley Barbour and I will lead the BG&R team,” wrote Lanny Griffith… in the filing. According to subsequent filings, Barbour’s work included “building support in the legislative branch for passage of a bill related to Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.” As part of that work, Barbour’s firm arranged meetings and briefings with “Senators, members of Congress and their staffs, as well as Executive Branch Officials in the White House, National Security Council, State Department, and Immigration & Naturalization Service.” Barbour’s firm charged Mexico $35,000 a month, plus expenses.
One of BGR Group’s top current clients is the Republic of India. That’s significant to the guest worker issue because about half of all H-1B visas go to Indian nationals. Additionally, Indian companies like Infosys are major beneficiaries of the guest worker program. India has spent more than half a million dollars with the BGR Group this year alone, showing that Barbour and company have worked both sides of the immigration point: low-skill workers from the southern border and high-tech workers from India.
Given his work for immigration reform, it’s not surprising Haley Barbour has been a loud critic of DonaldTrump, but recently said, “Donald Trump’s not my cup of tea but if it comes down in November to a choice between Hillary Clinton and whoever our party nominates, I’m going to vote for whoever our party nominates, even if it’s somebody I don’t agree with so much.”