Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg speaks at a media event at Facebook… (Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty…)
SAN FRANCISCO -- Mark Zuckerberg is being unfriended by progressives angered by television ads from his political advocacy group Fwd.us that praise lawmakers for supporting the expansion of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Their ire is being directed at the billionaire founder and chief executive of Facebook with a protest planned for noon Wednesday at the company's Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters shortly before the company releases its first-quarter earnings.
The TV ad campaign is designed to give political cover to vulnerable conservatives back home to rally support for comprehensive immigration reform. But controversy generated by the ads could become a problem for Zuckerberg and Facebook. Though none of the ads suggest that Zuckerberg or Facebook support these policies, that distinction may be lost on the general public.
"Years and years ago, Michael Jordan was asked why he was not endorsing a Democratic candidate for senator in North Carolina. He said: 'Republicans buy shoes, too.' One of the biggest obstacles for a business leader considering political involvement is the potential impact it would have on his client base," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "Zuckerberg’s primary goal is to have immigration reform, and this is a very savvy way of making that happen. But invariably there is going to be people who don’t understand and the inevitable result is going to be this type of brush fire."
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Fwd.us is spending seven figures in seven states to frame immigration reform as a conservative issue. The first round of ad buys makes no mention of immigration. Instead the ads tout lawmakers' support of causes embraced by conservatives.
Fwd.us is essentially bankrolling the reelection of senators who might be vulnerable in 2014 such as Democrat Mark Begich in Alaska and Republican Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. The goal is to get their votes on immigration reform.
Progressives are voicing noisy opposition, and they are making it personal.
"It's disappointing that having taken a very public stand for clean, renewable energy, Mark Zuckerberg is now playing the politics of dirty oil. You'd hope the visionary behind Facebook would be looking to the clean energy economy of our future rather than falling for the pipe dreams of the dinosaur fossil fuel industry. Where's the dislike button?” Ross Hammond, senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said in an emailed statement.
Credo Mobile, a mobile phone carrier that lobbies on progressive issues, says Facebook rejected an ad criticizing Fwd.us.
Even technology blog TechCrunch is calling on Fwd.us to be more transparent about the political game it is playing.
A Facebook spokeswoman could not be immediately reached for comment.
Fwd.us chief Joe Green was not available for comment, spokeswoman Kate Hansen said.
"Fwd.us is committed to showing support for elected officials who promote the policy changes needed to build the knowledge economy," Hansen said. "Maintaining two separate entities, Americans for a Conservative Direction and the Council for American Job Growth, to support elected officials across the political spectrum –- separately –- means that we can more effectively communicate with targeted audiences of their constituents."
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