The technology industry’s newest high-powered political lobby, FWD.us, is unraveling just a month after it launched, as two of its biggest partners, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Yammer’s David Sacks, leave the organization. Begun with a reported $20 million of Mark Zuckerberg’s own money, and rare op-ed by the politically shy Facebook founder, FWD.us has faced a torrent of criticism over funding advertisements that praise Republicans who support the controversial Keystone pipeline (below).
Environmental groups were up in arms and circulated a boycott of FWD.us that had, ironically, had more supporters than FWD.us’s call to action. The Sierra Club, Progressives United and MoveOn.org were among a littany of progressive groups that are now boycotting Facebook advertisements. “Immigration reform – fine. Oil expansion and pipelines? NOT fine. Where’s the transparency here, rich dudes? Or does FWD actually stand for Fine With Drilling?,” wrote one angry commenter on the FWD.us Facebook page.
Elon Musk, as founder of Tesla Motors, prides himself on a sterling environmental record, so it’s easy to see why he couldn’t tolerate being associated with a group indirectly funding pro-Keystone pipeline ads. But, David Sacks doesn’t have as much to lose publically as Musk, which means that Musk is likely hooking more high-level partners with his departure.
Nor is this the group’s first PR disaster. Even before the group began, FWD.us director and Zuckerberg’s old Harvard roommate, Joe Green, had to issue a statement of regret for a leaked perspectus. “Given the status of our funders and quality of our team, we will drive national and local narratives to properly frame our agenda,” read the brash strategy note.
As we’ve written about before, FWD.us has kept a tight lid on their funding and tactics. We do know that FWD.us splits its organization into Democratic and Republican teams, offering quid pro quo cash in exchange for support of its key initiative — immigration. This kind of back-door compromising may work in D.C., but it’s evidently not as well tolerated in the Valley.
In my own off-the-record conversations with supporters, no one is happy with FWD.us right now.
It’s going to become a political landmine to stay on board, let alone join the group. FWD.us is unraveling, and we predict it won’t be around much longer unless it becomes a lot more transparent and ditches the D.C. tactics. Stay tuned for more.