Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his new political group today that has the powerful backing of a who’s who of technology leaders.
The group, which will be called FWD.us (“Forward U.S.”), represents the most ambitious effort yet to connect the innovators and entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley with the politicians and policy wonks of Washington, DC.
In a Washington Post Op-Ed, Zuckerberg cites several initial policy goals for the group, including advocating for “comprehensive immigration reform,” “higher standards and accountability in schools” and “investment in breakthrough discoveries in scientific research.”
“We have a strange immigration policy for a nation of immigrants,” Zuckerberg wrote. “And it’s a policy unfit for today’s world.”
Besides Zuckerberg, the group’s co-founders include John Doerr, general partner at the Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Reid Hoffman, executive chairman of LinkedIn. Major contributors include Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google; Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix; Marissa Mayer, chief executive officer of Yahoo! and a host of other technology luminaries.
“We will work with members of Congress from both parties, the administration and state and local officials,” Zuckerberg wrote in The Post. “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.”
And the organization, registered as a 501(c)(4) and able to accept unlimited funds without disclosing the names of its donors, will be using the lobbying muscle of at least two firms: Peck Madigan Jones and Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, a source close to the group told ABC News.
The group’s president, Joe Green, was a Harvard classmate of Zuckerberg’s who passed up a fortune at Facebook to work in the political and non-profit world. Green recently had to issue an apology after Politico reported the contents of a memo he wrote naming Bill Gates as a FWD.us co-founder (he has not signed on) and boasting of “tactical assets,” including “individuals with a lot of money” who “control massive distribution channels.”
“I regret some of the language in the email was poorly-chosen and could give a misimpression of the views and aspirations of this organization and those associated with it,” Green said in a statement to Politico.
Despite the early misstep, FWD.us took steps today o present a bi-partisan front. It is being staffed and advised by a group that includes former National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director Rob Jesmer, former Clinton administration White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart, Republican foreign policy adviser Dan Senor, former Democratic Governors Association communications director Kate Hansen and Republican political consultant Jon Lerner.
The new venture is not alone among moneyed interests pushing for comprehensive immigration reform. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition of mayors and business leaders, has been building support for changes to the U.S. immigration policy since 2010. A separate Bloomberg-backed group has also taken a leading role in advocating for stricter gun control measures.
Among the ranks of Zuckerberg’s co-founders are several who have their own immigration stories to tell like Ruchi Sanghvi, the vice president of operations at Dropbox, who in a video posted on the group’s website says she came to this country to attend college 2000 when she was 18 years old. Later, she became the first female engineer at Facebook.
“All of us have something unique to offer to the country,” Sanghvi says. “America has been a country of immigrants and I hope that we can change immigration reform.”
ABC’s Chris Good contributed reporting.