Technology Industry Lobbying Group Loses Supporters
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
Published: May 10, 2013
Elon Musk, a founder of the electric carmaker Tesla and one of the technology industry’s most outspoken exponents of clean energy, has stepped down from a prominent Silicon Valley advocacy group that is pushing for changes to the nation’s immigration laws and that has sponsored advertisements that promote a contentious oil pipeline.
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The advocacy group, Fwd.us, is spearheaded by Facebook’s co-founder and chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, and counts many tech industry executives among its supporters. To drum up political support for overhauling immigration law, the group has bankrolled ads for lawmakers who support the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a lightning-rod issue for environmentalists.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Musk’s second company, SpaceX, a rocket manufacturer, confirmed that he was no longer involved with Fwd.us, but declined to elaborate. The news was first reported Friday evening by Reuters.
The Reuters report said that David Sacks, chief executive of Yammer, a social networking company, had also withdrawn support. His office did not return calls seeking comment. But Kate Hansen, a spokeswoman for Fwd.us, said the group still has many backers.
“We recognize that not everyone will always agree with or be pleased by our strategy – and we’re grateful for the continued support of our dedicated founders and major contributors,” she said. “FWD.us remains totally committed to supporting a bipartisan policy agenda that will boost the knowledge economy, including comprehensive immigration reform.”
Fwd.us has been criticized by some environmental groups, though its backers have defended its “innovative tactics” as part of a broader strategy to rewrite immigration law. Fwd.us said it spent in “the seven figures” for three television spots that support senators who play a prominent role in the progress of the immigration bill.
One advertisement supports a plan for border enforcement by Marco Rubio, a Republican. Another supports Lindsey Graham, a Republican who like Mr. Rubio is part of the Gang of Eight that drafted the immigration bill. A third television ad is for Mark Begich, a Democrat from Alaska, where conservative voters are critical of legislation that offers relief to those who immigrate illegally to this country.
The advertisements prompted strong reaction from a coalition of liberal organizations that includes the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and MoveOn.org. They announced earlier this week that they would suspend buying advertisements on Facebook, which they acknowledged would have little economic impact on the company.
Fwd.us includes people like John Doerr, a venture capitalist who invests in clean technology firms, and Reid Hoffman, an entrepreneur who founded the electronic payment company PayPal with Mr. Musk and Mr. Sacks.
The group has declined to say who gave how much money to the cause, except to list major donors. By Friday afternoon, neither Mr. Musk nor Mr. Sacks were on the roster of contributors.