(Fixes misplaced apostrophe in senators' in 5th para)
* Advertising tactics turn some groups against Facebook
* Support for positions of three lawmakers, including oil
* Musk and David Sacks removed from donor list on website
By Sarah McBride and Alina Selyukh
SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON, May 10 Billionaire
environmentalist Elon Musk has quit a Silicon Valley advocacy
group formed by Facebook (FB.O) founder Mark Zuckerberg after
the group funded ads for senators touting their support for an
oil pipeline and oil drilling in Alaska.
Musk leads one of the world’s best known "green" companies,
electric carmaker Tesla (TSLA.O). A Tesla spokeswoman told
Reuters on Friday that the South African-born entrepreneur
preferred not to elaborate on his reasons for leaving FWD.us.
Zuckerberg announced the formation of FWD.us last month,
saying it was focused on bipartisan policies to bring about
comprehensive immigration reform and improvements in the U.S.
Fwd.us bankrolled three television ads on behalf of senators
who have been playing a key role in the immigration debate.
The ads were focused not on immigration but rather on the
senators' general positions, including one's support for the
Keystone XL pipeline, which has created a backlash among some
progressive groups. Backers say the pipeline project would boost
North American energy security and provide thousands of
construction jobs. Opponents argue that it would lead to higher
releases of greenhouse gases.
The spots quickly drew the ire of liberal and environmental
groups, including the Sierra Club and MoveOn.org, who earlier
this week pledged to pull ads from Facebook for two weeks.
The Fwd.us website removed Musk’s name on Friday after a
Reuters inquiry. It was unclear how much Musk, who also chairs
solar-energy company Solar City, had donated.
David Sacks, founder of business networking site Yammer and
a former colleague of Musk's at payment service PayPal, also
dropped off the list of the FWD.us backers on Friday. FWD.us
spokeswoman Kate Hansen earlier confirmed that a second funder
had withdrawn support but declined to elaborate. Sacks did not
immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We recognize that not everyone will always agree with or be
pleased by our strategy – and we're grateful for the continued
support of our dedicated founders and major contributors,”
FWD.us spokeswoman Hansen said in a statement.
“FWD.us remains totally committed to supporting a bipartisan
policy agenda that will boost the knowledge economy, including
comprehensive immigration reform.”
A Facebook spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a
request for comment.
A DIFFERENT APPROACH
FWD.us boasts an impressive list of backers, including
Microsoft (MSFT.O) founder Bill Gates and LinkedIn LNKD.O
founder Reid Hoffman, though it operates as a special type of
non-profit group that does not have to disclose its donors. Run
by Zuckerberg's old Harvard roommate, Joe Green, FWD.us’s
political operation is managed by a group of Washington insiders
with leadership roles in both Republican and Democratic
It joins other technology groups and alliances lobbying
Congress for more H-1B visas for high-skilled workers and easier
hiring of foreign math, science and engineering experts.
Rather than directly representing the companies its backers
are involved with, FWD.us is funded by individuals who have
personally attached themselves - and their cash - to the cause.
Zuckerberg has become the group's public face, among more than
three dozen big-name supporters.
Politically, Zuckerberg has carved out bipartisan
credentials, visiting the White House and hosting a town hall
for President Barack Obama but also staging a fundraiser for
Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey who some
see as a 2016 Presidential hopeful.
The latest controversy was sparked by ads for Republican
Senators Marco Rubio from Florida and Lindsey Graham from South
Carolina as well as Alaskan Democrat Mark Begich. FWD.us helped
fund two separate entities to run the ads.
Rather than focusing on raising public awareness over
immigration reform and its benefits for the technology sector,
the FWD.us ads promote lawmakers who the groups thinks will be
key players on the issue.
In doing so, the ads highlight a number of positions held by
the senators, including supporting the controversial Keystone XL
pipeline in Graham’s case, and drilling in the Alaska National
Wildlife Preserve in Begich’s.
The ads could help inoculate the lawmakers against
challenges from within their parties as a result of their stand
on immigration reform. Graham and Begich are up for re-election
Fwd.us co-founder Jim Breyer, a venture capitalist at Accel
Partners, defended the group's efforts.
“Our advertising decisions are being made by a very smart
team of political operatives who know that passing major reform
will require some different and innovative tactics,” Breyer said
in an emailed statement.
For the most part, donors have stayed out of the nitty
gritty of how FWD.us operates.
"It’s a really gnarly, gnarly thing having to deal with
Washington," venture investor and Fwd.us co-founder Chamath
Palihapitiya said at a conference last month. "I’m glad that
other people other than me are dealing with it who have the
patience and the resolve to figure it out."
(Reporting By Sarah McBride and Alina Selyukh; Editing by Ros
Krasny, Mary Milliken and Claudia Parsons)
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Keywords: USA IMMIGRATION/TECHNOLOGY
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