By Jennifer Martinez - 08/04/13 04:09 PM EDT
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is building a new social network, and this time it's political.
After largely sitting on the political sidelines for a few years, the 29-year-old Facebook founder is using his clout as a top business executive and American success story to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform.
This week, Zuckerberg will publicly dive headfirst into the immigration debate that’s captivated Washington by joining forces with pro-immigration advocates outside of the tech industry.
On Monday evening in San Francisco, Zuckerberg will give introductory remarks at the premiere of “Documented,” a documentary film directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas that looks at the stories of young immigrants, known as "Dreamers," who came to the United States illegally as children with their parents.
FWD.us, the political advocacy group that Zuckerberg co-founded and helped finance with his former Harvard roommate Joe Green, is co-hosting the event with Vargas’s immigrant rights group Define American.
The premiere is expected to draw a who’s who crowd of top Silicon Valley tech stars, as well as undocumented workers and Dreamers. The diverse audience is intended to show a united push for immigration reform.
Green, president of FWD.us, will moderate a panel after the film screening that will feature Vargas, immigrant rights activist Gaby Pacheco, Groupon Founder Andrew Mason and FWD.us founder Ruchi Sanghvi, who was Facebook’s first female engineer and now serves as vice president of operations for Dropbox.
The upcoming premiere is being viewed as a launch pad for the tech industry in the push to overhaul the country’s immigration rules.
“We’re thrilled that he’s engaged,” said Carl Guardino, chief executive of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a tech trade association that counts Facebook as a member. “I’m really hoping that the opportunity is used by Mark and others to galvanize more of our tech community brethren to deeply engage immediately on immigration reform legislation during this recess in Congress.”
The tech industry has spent years pushing Congress to raise the cap for high-skilled work visas and make more green cards available for foreign graduates with advanced technical degrees from American universities. But with the rare momentum behind immigration reform this year, tech lobbyists have expanded their legislative push beyond the high-skilled piece of the debate to advocate for a comprehensive solution to the country’s broken immigration system.
FWD.us has been a leader in that fight.
But the young political advocacy group has run into some public relations headaches right out of the gate and been forced to deflect some negative press, much like Zuckerberg did in his early days in the public spotlight. The tales of Facebook’s transition from a project launched in Zuckerberg’s dorm room to a Silicon Valley darling inspired the 2010 Aaron Sorkin drama “The Social Network,” which negatively depicted the young Facebook founder as a wildly talented, yet self-centered computer programmer.
FWD.us, which counts top Silicon Valley tech leaders as donors, sparked the ire of liberal groups after it aired a set of controversial political television ads that touted the conservative bona fides of Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). The ads for Begich and Graham lauded their support of the Keystone XL pipeline, prompting environmental and progressive groups to temporarily boycott purchasing ads on Facebook.
FWD.us also lost a high-profile contributor, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, after the ads aired.
While comprehensive immigration reform is the first national policy issue that Zuckerberg has personally engaged in, he has previously been active in New Jersey politics.
Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla, hosted a campaign fundraiser for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. in February, which drew a few dozen protestors to his neighborhood in the traditionally Democratic-leaning city, according to The San Jose Mercury News.
However, Zuckerberg, who has not declared support for any particular political party, also has plans to host a fundraiser for Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker’s (D) Senate run, Bloomberg reported.
The Facebook chief executive appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” with Booker and Christie in 2010 after he pledged to donate a $100 million to Newark schools.
But he’s also recently been active at contributing to lawmakers at the federal level.
Zuckerberg and his wife have each donated $5,000 to Facebook’s PAC, which has doled out more than $100,000 in campaign cash to members of Congress this year, including those who have played a role in the push for immigration reform, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), a member of the Senate Gang of Eight, picked up $10,000 from the social network’s PAC, which gave $5,000 each to his campaign committee and leadership PAC, CRP reported.
Two other Gang of Eight members, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also received $5,000 each from Facebook’s PAC. It also wrote checks to members that will play key roles in the upcoming immigration fight in the House, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), CRP said.
Before that, Zuckerberg gave $5,000 to the company’s PAC in 2012 and 2011.
“I think people who try to figure out his politics, I don't think they’re going to see an ideological-driven young man, but one that wants what’s best for the nation,” Guardino said.
— This post was corrected to update the date of the premiere.