(NEW YORK) — Less than three weeks after Mark Zuckerberg officially launched his pro-immigration reform group, the billionaire technology mogul seems to be experiencing the Facebook equivalent of a liberal de-friending.
Progressive activists have been voicing their disapproval after two Zuckerberg-backed groups unveiled television ads last week that praised lawmakers for opposing Obamacare and supporting an expansion of the Keystone oil pipeline and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The ads are meant to provide political cover for senators to cast politically risky votes in favor of immigration reform.
One of the ads, airing on behalf of Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate’s bi-partisan “Gang of Eight,” features clips of the South Carolina Republican repeatedly disparaging President Obama. Another ad touts Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich’s work to open ANWR to drilling.
Those television commercials led the Sierra Club to post a message to the environmental group’s Facebook page on Monday urging Zuckerberg to “rethink 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.
“Just last week, the Sierra Club announced our support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants — so we know how important immigration reform is to the future of our country,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement to ABC News. “The way to achieve reform, however, isn’t by pushing dirty fuel schemes that threaten our future and our families. Mark Zuckerberg has made comments in the past recognizing that we need to pursue a clean energy future, and there is no reason he needs to trade those principles for a few political points.”
In addition to Graham and Begich, an off-shoot of Zuckerberg’s group, FWD.us, is financing a television commercial supporting Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — the only one of the three ads that specifically mentions immigration reform.
FWD.us is funding two subsidiaries that are running the ads — the Republican-leaning Americans for a Conservative Direction and the Democratic-minded Council for American Job Growth.
Each group has a board of directors separate from FWD.us, which last week added the backing of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and its CEO Steve Ballmer as well as technology entrepreneur Sean Parker to an already impressive list of Silicon Valley leaders who have signed on as supporters.
Former New York Congressman Scott Murphy, former Clinton administration White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart, and former Obama campaign official Alida Garcia are listed as board members for the Council for American Job Growth.
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former George W. Bush administration official and Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan campaign adviser Dan Senor, and former National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director Rob Jesmer sit on the Americans for a Conservative Direction board.
“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,” FWD.us spokeswoman Kate Hansen said in a statement.
Although none of the ads imply that either Zuckeberg or FWD.us support policies like expanded oil drilling, detractors see little distinction between the group and its subsidiaries or between the group and Zuckerberg.
Their view that the ends (in this case, comprehensive immigration reform) do not justify the means (controversial political ads), has led at least two other groups — CREDO Action, the liberal arm of CREDO Mobile, a cellular phone company, and the “climate safety” organization, 350.org — to publicly lash out at Zuckerberg. A CREDO spokeswoman said 18,5000 people signed on an online petition condemning the ads and, along with 350.org, they are planning a protest outside Facebook headquarters in California on Wednesday.
Although FWD.us supporters include John Doerr, a prominent Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist; Reid Hoffman, executive chairman of LinkedIn; Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google; Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix; and Marissa Mayer, chief executive officer of Yahoo!, so far the progressive ire has been focused almost exclusively on Zuckerberg.
Complicating matters are the Facebook founder’s somewhat mysterious political views. Zuckerberg and other technology leaders, for example, dined with President Obama in February 2011 and he hosted the president at a friendly town hall meeting two months later at Facebook’s offices.
But he also threw a fundraiser earlier this year for Gov. Chris Christie, the New Jersey Republican and potential 2016 presidential contender. (At the time CREDO Action organized a protest outside of Zuckerberg’s Palo Alto home.)
According to the Wall Street Journal, Zuckerberg is registered to vote in Santa Clara County but did not state a party preference. Campaign finance records show he donated a total of $10,000 in 2011 and 2012 to Facebook’s political action committee.
In a Washington Post op-ed announcing his new advocacy group earlier this month, Zuckerberg expressed support for three major policy goals: “comprehensive immigration reform”; “higher standards and accountability in schools”; and “investment in breakthrough discoveries in scientific research.”
“We will work with members of Congress from both parties, the administration and state and local officials,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We will use online and offline advocacy tools to build support for policy changes, and we will strongly support those willing to take the tough stands necessary to promote these policies in Washington.”
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