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.
|Founded||April 11, 2013 (official launch)|
United States IRS exemption status: 501(c)(4)
The initiative is led by principal Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Its founding president was 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.
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.
Timeline of key developmentsEdit
|Month and year||Key developments|
|March–April 2013||Early rumors of launch, leaked draft prospectus, official launch (April 11).|
|Late April and May 2013||FWD.us subsidiaries Americans for a Conservative Direction and Council for American Job Growth launch ads (including ads on conservative radio and talk shows) supporting pro-immigration reform politicians' other political positions, including the Keystone XL oil pipeline. FWD.us receives considerable media coverage. Environmentalist, liberal, and progressive groups protest the FWD.us strategy. Many pundits opine on whether FWD.us will be a long-term success.|
|June and July 2013||FWD.us launches tools for grassroots action on immigration reform, releases its Emma video, and launches a Tumblr blog.|
|September 2013||FWD.us releases a report on its effectiveness. Chris Hughes explains why he is not a member of FWD.us.|
|October and November 2013||FWD.us announces in October a hackathon for immigration reform, to be held in November. It announces it will work with Grover Norquist on immigration reform. It hires Darius Contractor as Chief Technology Officer.|
|Late January 2014, continuing through February and March 2014||FWD.us launches a $750,000 ad push to get the House Republicans to pass immigration reform. It also launches an app called Push4Reform to facilitate more grassroots activism. An ad released on March 3, 2014 receives considerable response.|
|September 2014||Joe Green leaves FWD.us, and Re/code claims that his departure appears forced. A blog post on the FWD.us website confirmed the leadership change.|
- 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.
- Reducing corporate expenses for hiring employees by encouraging immigrants to compete with American citizens for employment
- 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, though not necessarily E-Verify.
The FWD.us team was initially split between the Silicon Valley, where it was 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.
Under Joe Green resigned in favor of Todd Schulte, the organization has shifted more to emphasize Washington DC activities, recognizing its repeated failures to achieve reform and its perceived Silicon Valley elitism, e.g. in condemnations by Jeff Sessions and other lawmakers.
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 launchEdit
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 mediaEdit
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.
On March 3, 2014, FWD.us launched a nationwide ad pleading House Republicans to move forward with legislation regarding United States' immigration reform. The ad scolds House leadership for not making moves to bring a comprehensive immigration bill to the House floor. The 60-second commercial asks, "Why are House Republicans cooling, retreating and even privately saying they'd rather do nothing this year? Nothing won't do. Call House Republicans today. Tell them we've waited long enough, pass immigration reform." The commercial is set to run in all 50 states at a cost of $500,000.
Political lobbying and subsidiariesEdit
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 Republican politicians who supported immigration policies similar to those desired by FWD.us. Video advertisements were already being aired in favor of pro-immigration and pro-amnesty 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.
On January 31, 2014, a number of media outlets reported that the FWD.us subsidiary Americans for a Conservative Direction was launching a $750,000 USD campaign to fund the Republican Party's "immigration reform" campaign and encourage a bipartisan deal on immigration reform. It was also reported that the group had distributed a 30-page memo arguing in favor of immigration reform and critiquing the "real motivations" behind anti-immigrant groups Center for Immigration Studies, Federation for American Immigration Reform, and NumbersUSA.
Op-eds and articles in mainstream publicationsEdit
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 activismEdit
On June 6, 2013, FWD.us launched 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 effectivenessEdit
In September 2013, FWD.us released a report with some hard numbers on its impact and effectiveness.
Parallels drawn with other present and past groupsEdit
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 goals 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 approachEdit
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 was listed as a contributor 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 supportEdit
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 June 11, 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 restrictionismEdit
An 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 Huffington 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.
Poorly defined long term agendaEdit
Josh Miller, founder and CEO of Branch Media, a startup (that would later be acquired by Facebook), 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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