Young Money Talks an Old-School Game in Washington

Apr 22, 2014 8:57am
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  Napster co-founder Sean Parker.  (Photo Credit: Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images)

The heir to a billion-dollar hotel fortune, Patrick Gage, is an avowed warrior in the global fight against human trafficking. But ask him out for a beer to talk about it and he would, by the letter of the law, be compelled to turn you down. Gage, you see, is a 19-year-old Georgetown University freshman.

“Every step we take forward is another we refuse to take back,” the congressional intern, writing like a man twice his age, declaims in “Trafficking – The Government’s Role,” an essay posted to “The Right Way,” a campus Republicans’ blog.

This is where the story turns. Young as he may be, Gage is no rookie. He is a White House veteran, having spent a morning last month with a select group of young men and women less concerned with paying tuition than aligning their promised fortunes in a way that would most efficiently buy them bipartisan political influence. The story of their powwow was told exclusively by Jamie Johnson, who explains how he gained access to the event in a parenthetical aside below the story’s eighth paragraph:

“Disclosure: Although the event was closed to the media, I was invited by the founders of Nexus, Jonah Wittkamper and Rachel Cohen Gerrol, to report on the conference as a member of the family that started the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company.”

Johnson’s account — “Including the Young and the Rich: White House Hosts ‘Next Generation’ Young and Rich“ from last Sunday’s New York Times – ranges, like much of his work, from gently mocking to credulously advocating for, if not his subjects’ preferred policy points, the inevitability of their place at the table. He pokes at, but never breaks the skin.

Sean Parker, 34, has been poked at a bit during his now 15-year-long run as a public figure. The Napster co-founder, for all his talent and all his faults — made infamous by Justin Timberlake’s amped-up portrayal in “The Social Network” — has only seemed inevitable in the way of the reality-TV star: guaranteed to be heard from again. And again.

And so he has, though not in the entertainment verticals or techie gossip sites, but in POLITICO, where his big plans to spend big money on big political candidates and campaigns made for a headline story Monday morning.  An early investor in Facebook, Parker’s net worth, as calculated by Forbes, is $2.5 billion, up a tidy $108 million from last year.

Following the money through FEC filings and other publicly accessible databases, POLITICO traced a swelling tide of donations to mostly progressive candidates and causes. Kentucky’s Libertarian-Republican Sen. Rand Paul is a notable exception, at least for now.

“Associates,” POLITICO reports, say Parker is ready to start “committing big sums to aid Republicans he views as credible deal-makers in a bitterly divided Congress.”

Parker committed no bigger sum than to the advocacy group, “FWD.us,” the 501(c)(4) — translation: a Super PAC that is s not legally required to disclose its donor roll — founded by his old friend, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg. Introducing the organization in a Washington Post column a year ago, Zuckerberg stated his desire to bring people together in the name of advancing legislation like comprehensive immigration overhaul. This would happen, he wrote, in the course of advocating for “a bipartisan policy agenda to build the knowledge economy the United States needs to ensure more jobs, innovation and investment.”

While Zuckerberg’s record running a political operation is uneven, at least so far, there is no question he has succeeded in bringing people together. He has brought, in a very short time, a lot of very rich people to his clubhouse.

His murderers’ row of tech-world “leaders” has a deep bench full of deep pockets. Indeed, if one scrolls just a bit down the “Supporters” page on FWD.us, past the lofty likenesses of Bill Gates and Barry Diller, there’s a picture of the boyish-looking, 48-year-old online game creator Mark Pincus.

Zuckerberg and Pincus make their most public connection, not surprisingly, on Facebook. It was on Zuckerberg’s social media network that Pincus, founder and recently deposed CEO of Zynga, launched FarmVille. Two-and-a-half years later, Zynga stock was being traded on the NASDAQ and by 2012 it was reporting disappointing quarterly revenues of $332.4 million.

On December 17, 2013, Pincus was on the guest list for the White House’s meeting with Silicon Valley’s best and brightest. He wasn’t only at the table, he was photographed three seats down from President Obama, with only Vice President Joe Biden and Yahoo boss Marissa Mayer between them.

 

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                           (Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

As a supporter in good standing of the FWD.us mission, Pincus and his more-influential allies were dealt a bit of a blow — experienced political hands would probably just call it a minor “reality check” — when the liberal base that had been so welcoming at its inception bit back against decisions by related groups to air commercials criticizing Obamacare and urging the president to green light the Keystone XL pipeline, the environmentalist community’s bête noir.

Pressed then for an explanation, a spokeswoman for the group told The New York Times, ”Fwd.Us remains totally committed to support a bipartisan policy agenda that will boot the knowledge economy, including comprehensive immigration reform.”

 

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                        Congressional candidate Sean Eldridge. (Photo Credit: Mzorick/Wikipedia)

While the FWD.us folks continue their search for bipartisan solutions at White House conference tables, another ambitious, politically concerned individual with Facebook money to burn is trying to lie low in Upstate New York.

Sean Eldridge, the 27-year-old husband of Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, is running as a Democrat to represent New York’s 19th district in the 114th U.S. Congress. He has also been running from the spotlight, doing his best to convince his neighbors and perhaps future constituents that his carpet is nailed to the floor of the young family’s Hudson Valley home.

Republicans, as one would expect, are contesting that idea. They say Eldridge is trying to buy his way into Congress, where he could freely put an arm around and lobby “friends” like President Obama and Democratic House Minority Leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Right now, Eldridge’s race with incumbent Republican Rep. Chris Gibson looking like a tossup.

In the longer term, it seems unlikely that Eldridge will fail to get the opportunity to strike out on his D.C. dreams. He’s no novice, having played the game and won in New York’s push to legalize gay marriage. And the money isn’t going to run out any time soon.

New as their faces may be, Eldridge and Parker and the FWD.us team and the young legacies gathered to strategize at the White House are reading from a playbook as old and sustaining as the Republic. Its message, simply: Speak kindly and carry a fat bankroll.

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