The GOP billionaire’s club may have a new member: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg is registered to vote without picking a political party affilation and has been a participant at events with Obama where he put on a jacket and tie instead of a hoodie. But there seem to be a series of signs that he is drifting toward the GOP side of the aisle—and not just because he held a fundraiser for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie earlier this year.
Nor is it that Facebook’s PAC gave more money to Republicans than Democrats in 2012. The newest sign comes from the new lobbying group that he co-founded with other technology executives called Fwd.us. Their first moves resurrect old-school libertarian values: lifting immigration quotas for workers who could fill high-skill positions in technology manufacturing and information services, trashing health care reform and backing the Keystone XL pipeline.
Previous reports have speculated that Zuckerberg is a secret Republican, and Fwd.us—whose founding was announced with an op-ed by Zuckerberg in The Washington Post—is not behaving like the warm and fuzzy bipartisan entity that it website proclaims.
It doesn’t matter that Fwd.us has hired former Obama and Clinton White House staffers to appear to balance their Republican staff. Or that some of the executives on their page of supporters have been allied with Democrats in the recent past. Their political style is what you would expect Rand Paul followers; not Obama’s centrist Democratic Party.
Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive and co-founder, told The New York Times that Fwd.us “needs to be ‘disruptive’ in politics, as in commerce.”
“In order to push Washington to do something different and pass major legislation like comprehensive immigration reform, groups like Fwd.us can’t just do the same thing over and over again and expect different results,” he said. “As part of our work, we’re using a wide variety of tactics, some of which may ruffle some feathers, but we believe passage of the bill will be worth it.”
“Worth it” is the key phrase here. Immigration reform for Silicon Valley means hiring a bottomless pool of foreign computer programmers and technologists without having to share the wealth created for better wages and benefits for the thousands of Americans working in the Valley who rent $2,000 a month one-bedroom apartments—and don’t have fat equity packages waiting to vest.
But back to Zuckerberg. The Facebook founder has not just shown that his instincts are leaning to the right by hosting fundraisers for Gov. Christie, or by letting his new group,Fwd.us, bankroll GOP groups that back the Keystone pipeline and attacked Obamacare.
Fwd.us executives were told that these stances would create blowback and they have. CredoAction, based in San Francisco, tried to buy Facebook ads criticizing the group’s politics and was denied. The Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters and MoveOn all said they’d stop buying Facebook ads, which has symbolic not economic value.
Meanwhile, the group has been unapologetic, even as other technology executives have pointed out that it’s far too secretive for their liking—such as backing GOP groups whose agendas have nothing to do with Fwd.us’s stated aims. On Friday May 10, Pay Pal co-Founder and Tesla Motors' big captain Elon Musk suddenly quit the Fwd.us group, explaining: "I agreed to support Fwd.us because there is a genuine need to reform immigration. However, this should not be done at the expense of other important causes."
In recent weeks, there have been a little-covered war in the upper echelons of the GOP—between Karl Rove’s camp and the Koch brothers—over who will build the party’s giant voter database to help it target voters and fine-tune its messaging in future elections. So far, it seems that Rove other San Francisco-based entrepreneurs are winning.
That raises another question about Zuckerberg. It’s not his ability to spend endlessly for whatever political causes he likes that’s scary—like Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson did during the 2012 presidential campaign for various Republicans. It’s the idea that Zckerberg could put Facebook’s data to use to for the party’s goals.
Sheldon Adelson is approaching his 80th birthday. But Zuckerberg is not yet 30. He’s going to be involved in politics for a very long time. And if he’s already drifting to the political right, well, that’s not something to like.