Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is facing a backlash from the left over ads that support drilling in Alaska and the Canada-to-Texas Keystone pipeline, as the young billionaire wades ever-deeper into charged political debates.
The daisy chain that connects Zuckerberg with the drilling ads starts with FWD.US, the bipartisan group Zuckerberg co-founded for the purpose of supporting immigration legislation. That organization gave money to a conservative group, Americans for a Conservative Direction, that aired a TV ad supporting South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. It also gave to a group that put up an ad backing drilling in Alaska.
Graham is among the eight senators who crafted the bipartisan immigration legislation now being debated on Capitol Hill. However, Graham appears in the ad criticizing President Obama for not approving the Keystone pipeline, which supporters say will help the United Sates achieve energy independence and critics say will be an environmental hazard.
“The president says I’m for ‘all of the above’ when it comes to energy,” Graham says in the 60-second spot. “Well, those are words coming out of his mouth. They don’t come from his heart. No Keystone pipeline. No drilling in the Gulf. At the end of the day, the economy is not doing well.”
The Sierra Club, Credo Action -- the activist arm of cell phone company CREDO Mobile -- and others have since launched a multi-front pressure campaign that includes a petition, a protest outside company headquarters and a Facebook graphic that reads: “Hey Zuck, pull your ads supporting Keystone XL.”
“The people on Facebook who made Mark Zuckerberg a billionaire need to know that he is using his fortune to bankroll pro-Keystone XL propaganda," said Becky Bond, CREDO’s political director.
Zuckerberg, one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, has never publicly revealed his political party affiliation.
But he has openly and generously spent his money across the political landscape on causes he deems worthy and in support of politicians who share his ideas on economic and education reform, including New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, for whom he held a fundraiser in February.
FWD.US has answered the recent criticism by saying the group is trying to deliver its message to the wide range of voters.
The group “is committed to showing support for elected officials who promote the policy changes needed to build the knowledge economy,” said FWD.US spokeswoman Kate Hansen. “Maintaining two separate entities, Americans for a Conservative Direction and the Council for American Job Growth, to support elected officials across the political spectrum – separately – means that we can more effectively communicate with targeted audiences of their constituents.”
Beyond comprehensive immigration reform, FWD.US also supports education reform and expanded scientific research, with other co-founders including Joe Green of NationBuilder and LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman.
Council for American Job Growth is led by Democratic strategists, but has a TV ad in which Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat seeking 2014 re-election in a largely conservative state, supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The group Public Citizen argues that such support is “surprising,” pointing to a 2010 Greenpeace blog post in which Zuckerman tells Facebook followers that new offices in Oregon will go from coal to hydro power, adding “were moving in the right direction here.”
They also cite an op-ed Zuckerberg wrote last month announcing the group in which he said the economy of the last century was “primarily based on natural resources” and a zero-sum situation in which “if someone else had an oil field, then you did not.”
Credo has also taken its protest one step further by starting a campaign that calls on protesters to pledge to risk arrest if President Obama moves forward with a plan to approve the pipeline.
The group says at least 60,000 people have already signed the pledge.