United States IRS exemption status: 501(c)(4)
|Founded||April 11, 2013 (official launch)|
|Area served||United States|
FWD.us is a 501(c)(4) lobbying group based in the United States that aims to lobby and advocate for its version of immigration reform, changes to the US education system to improve science and technology education, and the facilitation of scientific breakthroughs with broad public benefits. It is primarily supported and funded by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
The initiative is led by principal Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and its president is Joe Green, a close friend and confidant of Zuckerberg. The group aims to build a bipartisan consensus around its proposed policies, however it has garnered criticism for its tactics in pursuing these goals.
- 1 History
- 2 Goals
- 3 People
- 4 Funding
- 5 Methods
- 6 Reception
- 7 Criticism
- 8 External links
- 9 References
The first rumors of the creation of a lobbying group on immigration reform were reported by Evelyn Rusli in the Wall Street Journal on March 26, 2013. On April 4, 2013, Politico obtained a leaked prospectus prepared by Joe Green intended for prospective contributors, with a proposed name of "Human Capital" for the lobbying group. Green admitted that the prospectus was authentic but also stated that many details, including the name of the group, had changed since the time the prospectus was sent out.
FWD.us was launched on April 11, 2013. The launch was accompanied by an op-ed by Mark Zuckerberg in the Washington Post laying out the agenda and arguing for the vision of the group. There was extensive media coverage of the launch.
- Immigration reform (in the context of immigration to the United States)
- Improving the quality of science and technology education (again focused on the United States)
- Encouraging more investment in breakthrough technologies in a manner that benefits the public at large.
- Improved border security.
- An immigration policy that is biased in favor of attracting extremely talented and hard-working people.
- A path to citizenship for current and prospective immigrants to the United States, including those who are present in the United States illegally.
- An improved employment verification system (the current most widely used system is e-verify).
The FWD.us website states:
FWD.us believes the global economy is changing and America must make significant changes to stay ahead. We will work to encourage Congress to focus on policies that maximize the potential of our country’s workforce to contribute to the knowledge economy.
This campaign will harness the best of new and old organizing tactics. We will use online social organizing, which many of our founders pioneered, to build a movement in the tech community, while engaging in direct advocacy at the state and district level to support members of Congress, regardless of party.
Despite this, FWD.us appears to lean fiscally conservative and libertarian. Americans for a Conservative Direction and Council for American Job Growth, both subsidiaries of FWD.us, has been running TV ads for US senators who backed immigration reform, such as Republicans Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham, along with Democrat Mark Begich, by praising them for backing projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, along with support for repealing Obamacare. Ads from Americans for a Conservative Direction are airing on conservative talk radio, such as The Sean Hannity Show and The Rush Limbaugh Show.
Numerous liberal and progressive groups such as The League of Conservation Voters, MoveOn.Org, the Sierra Club, Democracy for America, CREDO, Daily Kos, 350.org, and Presente and Progressives United have all have agreed to either pull their Facebook ad buys or hold off on buying Facebook ads for at least two weeks. It was to protest to Mark Zuckerberg over ads funded by FWD.us by touting the support for oil drilling and the Keystone XL pipeline and opposition to Obamacare among Republican US senators who back immigration reform.
The FWD.us advocates for proving law enforcement the tools necessary to secure the border, something that conservatives have advocated for in order to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
The FWD.us team is split between the Silicon Valley, where it is led by the president, Joe Green, and Washington D.C., where the team includes members such as Rob Jesmer (former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee) and Kate Hansen (who worked as the communications director for the Democratic Governors Association in 2012). In November 2013, FWD.us announced that it had hired Darius Contractor as its Chief Technology Officer.
The founders of FWD.us include Mark Zuckerberg (the public face of the group), Joe Green (founder and president of the group), Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Dropbox employees Drew Houston, Ruchi Sanghvi, and Aditya Agrawal, LinkedIn CEO and founder Reid Hoffman, Sean Parker (who played an important early role in Napster, Plaxo, and Facebook, and is on the Board of Directors of Spotify), super-angel Ron Conway, and venture capitalists Jim Breyer (of Accel Partners), Matt Cohler (of Benchmark Capital), John Doerr (of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers), and Chamath Palihapitiya (of The Social+Capital Partnership).
Major contributors include Tim Armstrong (CEO of AOL, joined October 2013), Steve Ballmer (CEO of Microsoft—was not in the original list at launch), Steve Chen (co-founder of YouTube—was not in the original list at launch), Brian Chesky (founder of Airbnb), Chris Cox, Barry Diller (chairman and senior executive at IAC), John Fisher (heir to the GAP fortune), Paul Graham (co-founder of Y Combinator), Reed Hastings (CEO of Netflix), Chad Hurley, Josh James, Max Levchin (former CTO of PayPal), Joe Lonsdale (founder of Palantir and Addepar), Andrew Mason (founder and CEO of Groupon), Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo!), Mary Meeker, Dave Morin (CEO of Path), Jon Oringer, Greg Penner, Mark Pincus, Keith Rabois, Eric Schmidt (executive chairman at Google Inc), Brad Smith (Microsoft executive vice president of legal affairs), Kevin Systrom (CEO of Instagram), Padmasree Warrior (CTO of Cisco), and Fred Wilson (of Union Square Ventures).
Although some earlier reports, including the leaked prospectus by Politico, had suggested that Bill Gates and Marc Andreessen would be involved with FWD.us, their names did not appear on the FWD.us site at launch. However, Gates' name was added to the list of founders later.
Elon Musk (CEO of SpaceX and of Tesla Motors) was originally listed as a major contributor, but left the group in May 2013 in the wake of advertisements put out by FWD.us supporting some political activities that conflicted with Musk's environmentalist priorities. David Sacks, who was originally listed as a major contributor, also left the group at around the same time.
According to news reports, the lobbying group is raising about $50 million (USD) for its lobbying efforts. As of April 2013, information about funds is not available on the official site, though a list of major contributors is available. As a 501(c)(4) organization, FWD.us is not legally obliged to disclose its list of contributors or how much it has received in contributions.
Plans prior to launch
The leaked prospectus obtained by Politico suggested that the lobbying group was planning to use the tremendous leverage that tech companies and their leaders had in pushing their agenda to the public, similar to the tactics used for the protests against SOPA and PIPA that were coordinated for January 18, 2012. However, in the same Politico article, Joe Green said that the prospectus used misleading language, and that various tech leaders would, "operating solely as individuals", promote the agenda of the lobbying group.
According to the leaked prospectus, the tactics were described as follows:
"grassroots and grasstops" organizing in targeted congressional districts, online advocacy campaigns, paid online and television advertising that will be “critical to creating the political infrastructure we need” and “earned media.”
The use of stories and videos
A "Stories" section on the website features videos of FWD.us supporters featuring their personal stories. Featured videos include videos by Ruchi Sanghvi (who worked at Facebook and is now at Dropbox) and Max Levchin (co-founder of PayPal).
In June 2013, FWD.us launched a new video titled "Emma" pictured on the Statue of Liberty, and with a voice-over narrating a somewhat modified version of The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus. The modification replaced lines in the poem that emphasized America as a refuge for immigrants fleeing tyranny and poverty and instead focused on welcoming talented immigrants.
Political lobbying and subsidiaries
The lobbying firm Fierce, Isakowitz and Blalock reported that FWD.us had paid it 30,000 USD in March 2013 (prior to the official launch of FWD.us) to lobby for immigration reform. A blog post by the Sunlight Foundation sought to put FWD.us in the context of the existing state of immigration lobbying.
On April 23, 2013, Politico reported that FWD.us had created a front group called "Americans for a Conservative Direction" that would air political ads in support of conservative Republican politicians who supported immigration policies similar to those desired by FWD.us. Video advertisements were already being aired in favor of pro-immigration conservative politicians Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio. The Politico report also indicated that FWD.us was planning to open another front group called "Council for American Job Growth" designed to appeal to people with progressive political sensibilities. The pro-conservative advertisements met with considerable backlash from progressive friends and erstwhile supporters of Zuckerberg and the cause.
In July 2013, Roll Call reported that FWD.us had paid $90,000 each to lobbying firms Fierce, Isakowitz and Blalock and Peck Madigan Jones in the second quarter of 2013, triple of what it had paid to each firm in the first quarter of 2013. The report was based on filings by the lobbying firms. The same article used media reports (not official filings) to estimate that FWD.us had spent about $5 million in political advertising over the period.
Op-eds and articles in mainstream publications
At launch, principal founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post outlining the goals of the group. After the passage of a proposed immigration bill in the US Senate, FWD.us President Joe Green wrote an opinion piece on the CNN website urging the US House of Representatives to pass the bill as well.
Facilitating grassroots activism
On June 6, 2013, FWD.us announced the launch of tools that enabled US residents to phone their senators and representatives to express views on the immigration bill that would soon be put to a vote.
On October 18, 2013, FWD.us announced a hackathon for November 2013 where the participants would be either DREAMers or mentors, where DREAMer was the FWD.us jargon for undocumented immigrants in the United States. The hackathon would be hosted by Reid Hoffman at LinkedIn's office and Mark Zuckerberg would be one of the mentors. The announcement was covered by BuzzFeed, The Daily Caller, and the Los Angeles Times. The event itself received coverage in PandoDaily, The Week, and CNet.
Report on effectiveness
In September 2013, FWD.us released a report with some hard numbers on its impact and effectiveness.
Parallels drawn with other present and past groups
The first report in the Wall Street Journal that reported rumors of the lobbying group that would eventually become FWD.us considered its possible overlap in terms and methods with Michael Bloomberg's group called the Partnership for a New American Economy as well as with the March for Innovation, a "virtual march for immigration reform." An in-depth article in The New Republic likened FWD.us to the Technology CEO Council, founded 24 years before FWD.us by the heads of first-generation computing companies like Dell, Intel, Xerox, and Hewlett-Packard.
Viability of the approach
The launch of FWD.us met with a wide range of reactions. Gregory Ferenstein, writing for TechCrunch, expressed skepticism regarding whether FWD.us was that different from existing lobbying groups and whether it would be able to accomplish anything. Om Malik, writing for GigaOm, also expressed a mixed reaction, albeit for different reasons.
The "cynical" approach taken by FWD.us in its political lobbying and campaigning has met with some criticism. However, an article in The New Republic argued that the cynical approach might be necessary for FWD.us to meet its goals, while noting dissent from "Silicon Valley libertarians" such as Michael Arrington and Peter Thiel (neither of whom were listed as contributors to FWD.us) from the idea of trying to influence politics and play the political game. Chamath Palihapitiya and Jim Breyer defended the approach used by FWD.us despite the political backlash.
Keystone XL oil pipeline support
At least two key members of the group and several liberal organizations withdrew support from FWD.us after revelations that the group supported the Keystone XL oil pipeline in two major ways. Elon Musk, a founder of the electric carmaker Tesla and rocket company SpaceX, and David O. Sacks, chief executive of Yammer, left the group and withdrew financial support. The Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and MoveOn.org also suspended advertisements on Facebook.
The controversy stemmed from the fact that FWD.us paid tens of millions of dollars for advertisements supporting three prominent lawmakers who also supported the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The lawmakers were Republican Marco Rubio, Republican Lindsey Graham, and Democrat Mark Begich. In addition, FWD.us ran advertisements praising the Keystone XL pipeline through its subsidiaries. The reaction was mixed among observers.
At least five people protesting Zuckerburg's involvement in FWD.us were arrested at Facebook's first shareholder meeting on 11 June 2013.
In September 2013, Chris Hughes, one of the earliest employees at Facebook who had played an important role in the Barack Obama 2008 presidential campaign, explained to Erin Griffith in an interview the reasons for his not being involved with FWD.us despite being close to the founders. He said, "They’ve taken a stance on all kinds of things, from [the Keystone XL pipeline] to other issues, which are not reflective of my own."
Elitism and endorsement of restrictionism
A article in The Verge was critical of the adaptation of The New Colossus by FWD.us in its video titled "Emma" on the grounds that the adaptation was elitist and replaced the idealism of the original poem by the self-interested position of the technology lobby. Similar criticisms were echoed in a comment thread on Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook post where he shared the video. Zuckerberg replied at length, concluding with, "The bigger problem we’re trying to address is ensuring the 11 million undocumented folks living in this country now and similar folks in the future are treated fairly."
An article in The Huffington Post was critical of FWD.us for running advertisements on the radio shows of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh that claimed that US border security was in shambles and endorsed the border security provisions in the immigration bill. The Huffinngton Post article pointed to record deportation levels under Barack Obama's presidency as well as quoted from a report by the Migration Policy Institute to question the claims made in the advertisements.
Hector Ruiz, former chairman and CEO of Advanced Micro Devices, wrote a piece critical of Mark Zuckerberg arguing that freer migration and a path to citizenship should be extended to all people, not just an elite.
Shaun Raviv in an article for The Atlantic and Nathan Smith in a blog post for Open Borders: The Case (a website focused on discussing and debating open borders), critiqued Mark Zuckerberg and FWD.us for the modesty of their vision, their focus on high-skilled immigration, and their endorsement of border security.
Bribery to push a pro-immigration agenda that harmed Americans
The journalist and blogger Steve Sailer, who writes for the anti-immigration webzine VDARE, was critical of FWD.us, despite agreement on issues such as border security and interior enforcement, due to FWD.us's proposal for expanded high-skilled immigration and amnesty for existing illegal immigrants. Sailer dubbed FWD.us the "National Association for Advancement of Billionaire People" and likened Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to a weasel. Sailer also wrote that the proposals made by FWD.us would make it harder for all Americans, particularly female Americans, to become programmers.
The anti-immigration webzine VDARE, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a hate group, was critical of Mark Zuckerberg's pro-immigration stance and viewed FWD.us activities as an attempt by the group to bribe legislators and radio talk show hosts.
Poorly defined long term agenda
Josh Miller, founder and CEO of Branch, a startup, was critical of Mark Zuckerberg for not clearly articulating the vision of the group on many of the issues it claimed it would eventually advocate for. Miller wrote: "To Mr. Zuckerberg, I would say this: One gets the sense that you are approaching FWD.us in the same way venture capitalists invest in start-ups. You put money and support behind a smart team tackling massive problems, with the faith that they will figure out the details along the way. However, that lack of introspection is ultimately harmful in the world of public policy. FWD.us is dealing with peoples’ principles, pocketbooks, and ultimately, livelihoods, so I urge you to take a more thoughtful, transparent approach — not to “Move Fast and Break Things.”"
Hamish McKenzie wrote a lengthy piece for PandoDaily in late May 2013 that was highly critical of FWD.us, claiming that the organization was beset by problems since its inception. The article noted that Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum defended the FWD.us strategy.
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