Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and the private space travel company SpaceX, has parted ways with FWD.us, the tech-centric political group that Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg launched last month. So, too, has investor and entrepreneur David Sacks, who created the social network Yammer and financed the satiric 2005 movie Thank You for Smoking. The tech news website AllThingsD first reported the departures of Musk and Sacks, and their names have been removed from the list of nearly two-dozen "major contributors" to FWD.us.
Zuckerberg and Facebook "Causes" creator Joe Green founded FWD.us to lobby on behalf of Silicon Valley firms in Washington. They quickly earned the endorsements of a host of other tech superstars. The group—which, as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, does not have to disclose its donors—has reportedly raised more than $25 million so far. The group chose the ongoing fight over comprehensive immigration reform as its first foray into Congressional politics, seeking to expand the number of visas available to engineers and other high-skilled workers that tech companies would like to recruit. By all accounts, FWD.us' message has gotten a warm reception on Capitol Hill.
But the group caused a political firestorm recently when it ran TV advertisements praising Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) for supporting more oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. Another ad depicted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) criticizing Obamacare and President Obama's refusal (so far) to green-light the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. FWD.us ran the ads to give Begich and Graham some political cover on immigration reform, the theory being that by touting the senators' conservative bona fides, they could give them the space to take a moderate position on an immigration reform bill. The Begich and Graham ads ran for a week and are no longer on the air. Liberal and environmental groups reacted furiously to FWD.us' conservative and anti-environmental message, protesting at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California. And last week, nine progressive groups, including MoveOn.org, Progressives United, the Sierra Club, and Daily Kos, pledged to pull down their existing paid Facebook ads or cancel future ad buys for at least two weeks.
It's not surprising that Musk would break with FWD.us. Tesla Motors builds high-end electric cars; its entire business model is built around a clean-tech economy. Musk also sits on the board of SolarCity, a company that delivers, installs, and maintains solar panels powering homes, businesses, and government offices.
Musk sent this statement to AllThingsD: "I agreed to support Fwd.us because there is a genuine need to reform immigration. However, this should not be done at the expense of other important causes. I have spent a lot of time fighting far larger lobbying organizations in DC and believe that the right way to win on a cause is to argue the merits of that cause. This statement may surprise some people, but my experience is that most (not all) politicians and their staffs want to do the right thing and eventually do."
FWD.us spokeswoman Kate Hansen emailed this statement to Mother Jones: "We recognize that not everyone will always agree with or be pleased by our strategy—and we're grateful for the continued support of our dedicated founders and major contributors. FWD.us remains totally committed to supporting a bipartisan policy agenda that will boost the knowledge economy, including comprehensive immigration reform."