Amidst widespread criticism, Mark Zuckerberg’s political advocacy group FWD.us gained some momentum today as it announced Steven Chen and Barry Diller have signed on as financial backers. Chen was a co-founder of YouTube, and Diller is the chairman of IAC/InterActiveCorp which owns About, Match, Newsweek and Vimeo. Diller and Chen, an immigrant himself, will fund campaigns for immigration reform.
FWD.us has been quietly enduring an onslaught of negative publicity for funding ads promoting oil drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge and the Keystone XL oil pipeline run in exchange for support from political candidates it hopes will vote for immigration and education reform initiatives the group campaigns for. These projects clash with the liberal viewpoints of many of FWD.us’s backers. The scandal led eco-champion Elon Musk and Yammer founder David Sacks to withdraw support from FWD.us.
The fact that Chen and Diller joined the group is remarkable because some would expect no one would want to become affiliated with the group started by Zuckerberg and run by former Causes founder Joe Green in April. Critics believe FWD.us might fall apart entirely, especially if it can reverse public sentiment.
It hasn’t helped that some see the all-star crowd of tech luminaries, including Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, Google’s Eric Schmidt, and Zynga’s Mark Pincus, as interested in immigration and education reform because they would help their companies bring in better talent from abroad and at home. The group maintains that these reforms are stepping stones to a stronger U.S. economy.
Green has stressed that FWD.us is fundamentally bi-partisan. He sees providing political coverage to conservative campaigns that could hurt the environment as the price of winning allies for the group’s campaigns. But the “this is how politics works” mantra has fallen on deaf ears among much of the press. A deep dive into the formation and current affairs of FWD.us by Hamish Mckenzie at PandoDaily says the group is alienating many potential supporters.
Still, Chen and Diller signed up. In a FWD.us blog post, Chen wrote, “As someone who immigrated from Taiwan to the United States at a very young age, I know firsthand how welcoming and supportive our country is to those of us coming here to make a better life… I’ve seen firsthand the impact both of those communities can have on our economy and our country’s ability to lead the world in innovation.”
In the end, Green’s approach might not be popular, but it could get the job done. There were essentially two approaches he could have taken: Win the hearts and minds of America to immigration reform, which could have been hugely expensive and difficult if not impossible — or play the politics game, grease the wheels however necessary, and get immigration reform passed by the House and Senate even if the process angered the public.
FWD.us may be deserving of the harsh words it receives. Politics (with a capital P) as usual is a dicey dark art, and one that many hoped Silicon Valley’s elite would disrupt rather than play into. Still, if its campaigns find success, there could be positive outcomes for many hoping to come to America or get a better education there.
Time will tell if FWD.us’s bluntly pragmatic strategy works, or if the group disbands as its supporters buckle under the pressure to put their money where their liberals mouths are and retreat from FWD.us.