Immigration Reform 2013: Mark Zuckerberg Lobbies For Change

Facebook CEO and co-founder Mr. Zuckerberg made a splash earlier this month when he announced his involvement in a political advocacy group that will focus on immigration reform and long-term economic issues.

Zuckerberg, who has already invested millions in the new group, will team up with other tech executives to advocate for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The independent expenditure group shows no sign of stopping there, vowing to look beyond the policy debate of the moment to support other issues near and dear to Silicon Valley.

Interestingly, Zuckerberg’s participation in the Super PAC marks the tech executive’s first major move into politics: His previous political donations total $10,000 and include only the occasional foray into New Jersey politics. Zuckerberg is reportedly pushing the group, organized by Joe Green, Zuckerberg’s old Harvard roommate and “which includes a crowd of top tech stars,” to look beyond the far-ranging immigration issue. The group has already brought on board a cadre of high-profile Washington hands from both sides of the aisle to take up a complex agenda of topics related to economic growth.

Following Zuckerberg’s splashy entrance on the political stage came quieter but perhaps more consequential tech news out of Washington. Not only were over thirty top tech executives in Washington this week to lobby Congress (and reportedly President Obama) on Thursday, but two Silicon Valley organizations, the GPS Alliance and the Internet Association made their first outside lobbying hires. Public lobbying filings show the young tech groups finalized deals with outside lobbying firms, and several tech groups, led by FixtheDMCA.org, an activism hub for those interested in reforming substantive parts of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), implored judiciary leaders to re-examine key DMCA provisions, including parts of the fifteen-year old legislation that forbid users from unlocking cell phone data. The movement is supported by Reddit, Mozilla, O'Reilly, YCombinator, the EFF, and over 50 other organizations.

Meanwhile, the GPS Alliance, in light of the incoming FCC chairperson’s expected increased focus on the issue of net neutrality, is centering its policy efforts on the FCC's re-purposing of inefficient wireless spectrum. The Internet Association, for its part, has hired lobbyists for a whole gamut of tech issues: privacy, cybersecurity, immigration, intellectual property and patent reform. It’s clear that Silicon’s Valley’s long-time aversion towards Washington is beginning to thaw, but this time it’s the tech sector’s youngest members that are leading the détente.

While these recent moves show the increasing willingness of Silicon Valley’s youngest innovators to finally dip their toes in DC politics, they overtly raise the question of why Silicon Valley has decided to get into the political game now. Founders have a lot of money but very little experience in politics, and the political landscape doesn’t yet seem primed for their arrival. So after so much time out of the political lime-light, are Silicon Valley’s technorati aware of some unforeseen shifts in the political climate that only a Silicon Valley outlook can afford, or is this a sign of something that Beltway elites have denied, that Washington is just the next, most logical startup? Who knows, but it will be interesting to watch as the young tech elite have finally decided to use their money to influence happenings in the capital. 

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Pierce Stanley

Previously a social media fellow at The New Republic, Pierce Stanley is a digital analyst at the Brookings Institution.

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