Over the past decade, Elon Musk has hopped on the "green" bandwagon and made himself ridiculously wealthy in the process. But in an effort to fulfill his sci-fi fantasies, Musk has become a complete hypocrite and is contributing to politicians that go against his entire mission. More on that in a moment.
Musk is a complicated and ridiculously wealthy man. More than anything he is ambitious, and he is becoming quite the political chameleon in order to achieve those ambitions. The South African started out as a computer programming prodigy, selling the code for a video game at the age of 12. He moved to Canada to study business, partially to avoid mandatory service in the South African military. He dropped out of Stanford exactly two days into a Ph.D program to start his first company. He is twice-divorced and has five boys.
Musk co-founded PayPal and currently heads the electric car company Tesla Motors, all the while pursuing commercial space travel through his reusable rocket company SpaceX. At the relatively young age of 42, he was just named the highest paid CEO in the world by TIME magazine. Oh yeah, and he also founded Solar City, the largest provider of solar energy in the U.S. His latest big idea — the Hyperloop — is an 800mph train connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco.
Forget Zuckerberg — this is the tech colossus who deserves a movie about his life.
Musk is the poster child for an age where private industry is increasingly able to outperform the government at its own game. The U.S. Postal Service is to FedEx as NASA is to SpaceX. Though Musk seems to have his hands in dozens of projects, they are all simple hobbies compared to SpaceX. The company is the first and only to send a private spacecraft into orbit and return it to Earth. SpaceX's recent successful satellite launch was achieved at a far cheaper price than NASA could've pulled off. It has partnered with NASA to become the first private company to launch to the International Space Station. Yet, according to Musk, these feats are simply a means for raising funds to accomplish the overall goal of SpaceX — to establish human civilization on Mars in order to enhance human consciousness.
Musk thrives on publicity. He seems to seek out opportunities to change the status quo, challenge his critics, and appear in Hollywood movies. He has also cultivated an image of himself as someone who is not just in it for the money. He is a big-thinking entrepreneur supposedly creating innovative technologies to make the world a better place in an environmentally responsible way. His philanthropy through the Musk Foundation focuses on renewable energy, science education, and pediatric research. He also joined the Giving Pledge, promising to donate over half of his wealth to charitable causes. He is an idealist who recently left Mark Zuckerberg's lobbying organization FWD.us, that focuses mainly on immigration reform, because it ran an ad in favor of the Keystone Pipeline. Musk stated, "We shouldn't give in to the politics. If we give in to that, we'll get the political system we deserve."
Such a stance would be laudable if Musk were putting his money where his mouth is. In an effort to get the Congress to support the Obama Administration's plan to largely privatize space travel, Musk and SpaceX spent $800,000 on political contributions and over $4 million on lobbying as of May 2012. Musk has consistently contributed to PACs and congressional candidates from both parties since he founded SpaceX in 2002, but this support has recently taken a turn to the right. For the 2014 election cycle, Musk has contributed to the Longhorn PAC and the National Republican Congressional Committee — both of which have funded the campaigns of anti-science, anti-environment candidates, like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).
The contributions could be an attempt to appease Republicans who have complained that he contributed more to Democrats than Republicans. SpaceX has even hired former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott via the lobbying group Patton Boggs to represent the company.
The amount of spending that SpaceX has allocated to lobbying and campaign contributions pales in comparison to companies like Lockheed and Boeing that are directly competing with SpaceX for the same government contracts. However, such political calculation betrays Musk's persona of a socially-conscious entrepreneur who loudly denounces supporters of the Keystone Pipeline and tries to get Americans to use less fossil fuels. His mission to save the world is being ruined by his contradictory actions; funding those that work against the very things he is fighting for.
Musk can't have it both ways. He is "playing ball" much like Zuckerberg is with FWD.us, trying to win supporters by compromising his own values. But he pretends to be above it all. His political contributions and calculations show that he is clearly not.