Mark Zuckerberg's 501(c)(4) organization, FWD.us, took another political blow last week when two key donors publicly left the super PAC. Focused on the expansion of the H1-B visas, FWD.us recently launched a series of advertisements featuring lawmakers pushing for immigration reform.
The group is sending out two sets of ads from two separate subsidiaries: "Americans for a Conservative Direction," targeted towards conservatives, and the “Council for American Job Growth,” targeted towards independent voters. Amidst the calls for action to conservative voters, however, are blatant references to other key issues -- notably the expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline.
While variations in messaging is not an uncommon advertisement strategy, using one issue to get support for another will not go unnoticed in the political world.
The super PAC's ploy to use the controversial issue of the Keystone XL pipeline to garner conservative support was, indeed, noticed by not one, but two of the group's donors: Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, and David Sacks, founder of the social network Yammer.
Once a supporter of the group's seemingly noble cause, Musk condemns FWD.us for the political tactics used to win over support. Explaining his departure from FWD.us, Musk suggested that contrary to popular belief, politicians do listen to their moral compass.
"I have spent a lot of time fighting far larger lobbying organizations in D.C. and believe that the right way to win on a cause is to argue the merits of that cause. This statement may surprise some people, but my experience is that most (not all) politicians and their staffs want to do the right thing and eventually do," he said in an interview with AllThingsD.
Instead of focusing on the need for comprehensive immigration reform, the Super PAC's defaults on keywords and issues sure to spark a reaction among its audience.
Musk is also chairman of the board at SolarCity, a solar energy company, and has showcased a longstanding commitment to environmental issues. While the two are not mutually exclusive, pushing immigration reform should not be done "at the expense of other important causes," he further explained.
Sacks, who joined Musk in leaving Zuckerberg's PAC, also has a complex understanding of lobbying. He produced and funded the movie, Thank You For Smoking, which focuses heavily on the internal struggles of a Washington lobbyist.
Despite losing two donors, however, FWD.us is not going to take a hit in terms of funds. The group is backed by some of the biggest -- and richest -- names in Silicon Valley: Google's Eric Schmidt, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and Yahoo's Marissa Mayer, to name a few.
The group may not suffer financially, but the loss of two supporters with experience in lobbying -- in reality and on the big screen -- comes at a considerable cost to the group's credibility. Already critiqued for his involvement in the political sphere, Zuckerberg is learning the hard way that there is a right way and a wrong way to win a cause in Washington.