Mark Zuckerberg and other tech leaders in Silicon Valley are banding together to push for comprehensive immigration reform, the Facebook co-founder announced this week. But Zuckerberg has dabbled in politically charged matters in the past.
In September 2011, the social media company created a political action committee geared for last year's election cycle, which could help Facebook gain legislative ground on privacy and patents.
And lobbyists? Facebook has them, too.
According to The New York Times, Facebook has had a Washington, D.C., office since 2007, and employs more than a dozen workers.
Just recently, Zuckerberg hosted a fundraiser for Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Zuckerberg's Palo Alto, Calif., home. He'd been in contact with the governor since 2010 regarding Newark schools — Zuckerberg donated $100 million to them.
And although Zuckerberg doesn't voice his political inclination, he's had dinner with President Obama and hosted a town hall at Facebook headquarters for him. Later, Christie also attended a town hall at the company. The Wall Street Journal's Heather Haddon wrote:
"In the past, Zuckerberg hasn't been overtly public about his political leanings. His electoral registration lists him as having no party preference, though he voted in the 2008 and 2012 general elections, according to the Santa Clara County's registrar of voters."
In December, Zuckerberg donated 18 million shares of Facebook — then worth about $500 million altogether — to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, an organization that matches donors with charitable causes. It was his second and biggest gift yet, according to the Huffington Post. His first was that Newark schools donation.
Tech Companies And Immigration
Zuckerberg's official step into advocacy for immigration reform doesn't come as a surprise though.
About 52 percent of Silicon Valley startups began with immigrant leaders, according to 1995-2005 data from the Kauffman Foundation.
For years, many tech giants have sought to bring in science, technology, engineering and math (known as STEM) talent through H-1B visas — temporary work permits for specialized fields. And in early April, the Associated Press reported the Department of Homeland Security received more applications for the desirable visas than available. Officials will be using a computer-based lottery method to issue the work permits.
Zuckerberg and other tech leaders like LinkedIn's Reid Hoffman, Dropbox's Drew Houston and Yahoo's Marissa Mayer are uniting behind FWD.us, the organization that will promote immigration and education reform. (And, of course, it has a Facebook page.)
In his Washington Post op-ed, he wrote about his experience with immigration, and the push FWD.us would incorporate:
"We will work with members of Congress from both parties, the administration and state and local officials. We will use online and offline advocacy tools to build support for policy changes, and we will strongly support those willing to take the tough stands necessary to promote these policies in Washington."
AnnaLee Saxenian, dean of UC Berkeley's School of Information, says Zuckerberg has shown interest in a high-skilled workforce and he's struck while the iron is hot on the immigration debate front.
Blast From The Past
But it's also not unusual for tech companies to stick their noses into in politics.
Remember when Google, Wikipedia and friends protested against SOPA and PIPA in 2012? They blacked-out some of their content to promote awareness of Senate bills that were taking on websites that tip-toed around online piracy and counterfeit items.
So saying Silicon Valley is maturing into politics is not new, Saxenian says, but Facebook has definitely become one of the biggest companies to step up.
In earlier times companies mobilized through lobbying in Washington, but now they've added social media to their arsenals.
"It's a new model of political influence and it's very fitting to the [Silicon] Valley," Saxenian says.
Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.