Mojo - May 2013

Bills That Would Gut Wall Street Reform Overwhelmingly Pass House Committee

| Wed May. 8, 2013 9:49 AM PDT

On Tuesday, three bills that would gut the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill passed the House Financial Services Committee (HFSC) in decisive fashion, with just six members of the 61-member committee voting against all of them.

The three bills passed over serious objections from the Obama administration. On Monday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew wrote a letter to Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the chairman of the committee, urging "members to oppose these bills and others like [them] that would weaken the important regulatory changes that Wall Street Reform has made to the derivatives market." A year ago, former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner made a similar statement against a slate of nearly identical bills.

Financial reform advocates say that the three bills would do serious damage to parts of Dodd-Frank that deal with derivatives, which are financial products with values based on underlying numbers, like crop prices or interest rates.

Only six of the 28 Democrats on the committee voted against all three of the bills—Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the senior Democratic member of the committee; Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.); Mike Capuano (D-Mass.); Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.); Al Green (D-Tex.); and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.). Another six Democrats voted against some of the bills. Sixteen Dems voted in favor of all three bills. Thirty-one of the 33 Republicans on the committee voted for all the bills; Reps. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) abstained on two of the bills.

House Financial Services Committee members received some $14.8 million in contributions from the financial services and banking sectors during the last election cycle.

One of the offending bills would allow certain derivatives that are traded within a corporation to be exempt from almost all new Dodd-Frank regulations. The second would expand the types of trading risks that banks can take on. The third would allow big US-based multinational banks to escape US regulations by operating through international subsidiaries. Financial reform advocates say it is way too early to start messing with Wall Street reform, especially since key parts of Dodd-Frank have yet to go into effect.

In an opening statement before the vote, Waters listed a series of financial scandals in the wake of the 2007 crisis that she argues make strong financial regulations imperative. "These scandals include, but aren’t limited to, money laundering to drug cartels, Libor [interest rate] manipulation, and the case of the 'London Whale,'" the nick-name for JPMorgan's massive trading loss last year, she said.

The bills will now head to the House floor for consideration, and have a good chance of being taken up in the Senate.

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This Is How the NRA Lies to Gun Owners About Obama's Agenda

| Wed May. 8, 2013 8:29 AM PDT

The National Rifle Association, which thwarted new background check legislation in Congress, recently mailed a "survey" to gun owners with 12 questions related to gun rights, gun laws, and politics. I use scare quotes above because this NRA document (read it here) is a deeply misleading push poll, not an actual survey—and it lies about President Barack Obama's positions on gun control.

The survey, provided to Mother Jones by a reader, claims that "President Obama has supported a national gun registration system allowing federal government officials to keep track of all your firearm purchases." This is an all-too-common NRA talking point. NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre echoed it in January, saying that Obama "wants to put every private, personal transaction under the thumb of the federal government, and he wants to keep all those names in a massive federal registry."

That's not true.

Federal law has long banned a national gun registry. And the recent gun control bill that died in Congress, which was cosponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and fully supported by Obama, did not create a national gun registry. In fact, the bill expressly prohibited such a registry. Obama emphasized this point repeatedly, and award-winning mainstream media fact-checkers backed him up.

Last January, Time's Michael Scherer pressed the NRA on its repeated accusation that Obama aims to set up a gun registry, and a spokesman for the group referred him to a statement Obama made as a state senator in 2001: "Too many of these guns end up in the hands of criminals even though they were originally purchased by people who did not have a felony. I'll continue to be in favor of handgun law registration requirements and licensing requirements for training." Yet as a presidential candidate, Obama ruled out a gun registration system, and as president, he has never proposed a national gun registry.

The NRA, in its survey, also refers to the "Obama gun-ban agenda." That's wrong, too. Last year, PolitiFact took a look at a similar claim in which the NRA asserted that "Obama admits he's coming for our guns, telling Sarah Brady, 'We are working on (gun control), but under the radar.'" PolitiFact rated that charge "Pants on Fire." As FactCheck.org notes, Obama is not trying to seize guns already owned by Americans. He supports reinstating the 1994 assault weapons ban, but that's a position he's held for many years.

The NRA's survey is riddled with bad information and leading questions designed to make recipients fear the worst. The goal, it seems, is not to gather information but to spread disinformation—and to recruit new members. At the end of the survey, recipients are asked to sign up with the NRA and "tell gun banners in Congress and my state legislature to keep their hands off my guns and my rights!" And there's a nifty form of encouragement for those who do enlist: a free NRA pocketknife.

GOP Senator Wants the Feds to Register Their Guns

| Wed May. 8, 2013 8:21 AM PDT

UPDATE, Wednesday, May 8, 1:05 p.m.: Sen. Coburn has withdrawn his gun registry amendment, the Huffington Post reports, "as a goodwill gesture" to water resources bill sponsor Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

ORIGINAL POST: For the first time since it rejected a compromise on expanded background checks in April, the Senate will take up gun control again Wednesday afternoon. Sort of, anyway: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has proposed two gun amendments to a water resources bill, one to relax laws against gun owners carrying their firearms in recreational areas and the other to create a national gun and ammo registry—but just for the federal government.

Coburn's first amendment would allow guns on lands operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers, "just like everywhere else," as Coburn told the Huffington Post. (The water resources bill, typically voted on every other year, authorizes Army Corps projects.) That's long been a goal of the National Rifle Association and other gun rights advocates. The other amendment is weirder: It would require the federal government to submit reports to Congress detailing all guns and ammo it purchased in the past year and how many were stolen or otherwise unaccounted for, with an exception for matters of national security (PDF).

Coburn's gun registry amendment plays into a specious theory advanced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who have alleged that the feds are buying up ammo to create a shortage and keep it out of the hands (and guns) of private citizens. Should that happen, gun hardliners argue, it's a big step down the road to a dystopian future that would mirror how Hitler supposedly carried out the Holocaust by disarming Jews (a reductive argument that fails to contextualize how Jews were systematically deprived of all their rights).

The Senate is scheduled to vote on Coburn's amendments on Wednesday afternoon. Most of the gun-related proposals that the Senate has voted on this year to either expand or roll back gun rights have been rejected.

Meanwhile, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) are continuing their efforts to further revise their background check amendment that fell five votes short of the 60-vote filibuster-proof threshold. The Huffington Post reported on Tuesday that two unnamed senators would drop their opposition to a new Manchin-Toomey bill with "minor, superficial changes."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hinted that Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), whose approval rating fell 15 points after she voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill, might be one of the unnamed lawmakers. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), one of four Democrats who voted against the bill, has also considered changing course. And gun reform advocates have their eyes on Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who promised the mother of an Aurora mass shooting victim he would vote for expanded background checks before voting against the bill and taking lots of heat as a result.

The Downton Abbey Exception and 4 Other Stupid Immigration Amendments

| Wed May. 8, 2013 7:42 AM PDT

Defying expectations, Congress is poised to take a serious shot at immigration reform. A bipartisan group of eight Senators has agreed on a bill. One of the GOP's brightest young stars, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), has linked his political future to passage of the bill, and so far managed to wade through a flood of harsh criticism from the right. When the Heritage Foundation, the most influential think-tank in the conservative movement, released a dubious study Monday alleging immigration reform would cost trillions of dollars, it was attacked by not only liberals but also conservatives who are supporting the immigration effort.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will be taking its first crack at the bill Thursday. Republicans opposed to reform have now turned to a time honored tradition of oppositional behavior in the Senate: Offering a whole bunch of amendments to slow down the process and. If they're lucky, they'll be able to slip in a poison pill amendment—a change so noxious that it makes the entire bill harder to pass.

How many amendments? Well, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is currently leading the pack with seventy-seven. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has proposed 49, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is bringing up the rear with 24.

Here are some of the worst and most random amendments proposed:

Eliminating the path to citizenship

The centerpiece of immigration reform is a long, arduous path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the United States. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) doesn't want that to happen. So he proposed an amendment that would make all undocumented immigrants in the US ineligible for the path to citizenship outlined in the bill. If passed, this is the sort of poison pill that would effectively kill the reform bill.

Beef with South Korea

Grassley has had long-running beef with South Korea since it placed tough restrictions on imports from the United States over worries about mad cow disease in 2003. Grassley's stampede of amendments includes one that would prevent South Koreans from obtaining visas designed to steer foreign investors to the US until the East Asian country "fully removes age-based import restrictions on beef from the United States." Though South Korean restrictions on US beef had once ground imports to a halt, most of the restrictions have been lifted as the result of a free trade agreement. (The GOP is in hock to the US beef industry).

But who can I underpay to cut my grass or drive my limo?

It's apparently really hard to find good (cheap) help these days, so Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has a modest proposal: Let's allow unauthorized immigrants to work—but only if they're doing low-paid domestic service jobs. Lee's amendment would exempt "services performed by cooks, waiters, butlers, housekeepers, governessess, maids, valets, baby sitters, janitors, laundresses, furnacemen, care-takers, handymen, gardeners, footmen, grooms, and chauffeurs of automobiles for family use" from "prohibitions on unlawful employment of unauthorized aliens."  Next: An amendment that would allow employers to feed said domestic workers stale cake.

No welfare for terrorists

You may have heard that story about how that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who are suspected of bombing the Boston Marathon, received public assistance. Sessions is graciously placating the conservatives for whom allegedly blowing up a crowd of innocent people wasn't enough of an outrage by proposing an amendment that would deny "terrorist aliens" welfare benefits. Some of you might be asking, "But didn't the Tsarnaevs receive public assistance before anyone knew they were terrorists?" Stop asking questions! Why do you love the terrorists so much?

Another welfare amendment (really!)

The immigration bill does not allow undocumented immigrants seeking legal status to receive welfare benefits. But that's not good enough for Sessions, who has proposed an amendment that would deny the path to citizenship to those deemed "likely" to receive "means-tested public benefits" at "any point in the future." If this sounds subjective and impossible to enforce, you're forgetting about the Department of Homeland Security's psychics.

All told there are now more than 300 proposed amendments to the bill, most of them from Republicans. (Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) has also proposed 24.) Many have been filed with the sole purpose of gumming up the works and making it harder to pass an immigration bill.

Sexual Assaults in Military Keep Rising—And Nearly 90 Percent Never Report It

| Wed May. 8, 2013 7:19 AM PDT

The number of servicemembers who reported being sexually assaulted rose consistently over the past four years, according to an internal Pentagon report released Tuesday, despite recent efforts by the Obama administration to address the problem. But because only a fraction of servicemembers ever report assaults to their superiors, the Pentagon also conducts an anonymous survey to estimate the true scope of the problem, and those reveal a much larger number: For 2012, for example, the report estimates that the real number servicemembers experiencing "unwanted sexual contact" is closer to 26,000, which means about 90 percent of servicemembers assaulted kept quiet about it. (The DoD data only provide estimates for 2006, 2010, and 2012.)

This problem has persisted for years—in 2008 then Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) wrote that women in the military were more likely to be raped by fellow servicemembers than killed by enemy fire. The news comes two days after the Air Force official charged with preventing sexual assault, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, was himself charged with sexual battery. The administration's nominee for vice commander of the Air Force Space Command is being held up in the Senate following revelations that she promoted an officer convicted of sexual assault.

The Pentagon report states that "[c]losing the gaps between prevalence and reporting will remain a key factor in determining success of our efforts." As you can see, so far they haven't made a tremendous amount of progress. Tuesday Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced a new set of measures to improve the military's handling of sexual assault, saying that "we know we've got big problems. We know that. And we've addressed that, and we'll continue to address it."

Note: This chart is based on one presented in the secretary of defense's sexual assault prevention and response memo released by the Pentagon yesterday.

4,693 People in America Died on the Job in 2011

| Tue May. 7, 2013 12:14 PM PDT

Workplaces dangers have been in the news more than usual lately, from the deadly explosion at the West, Texas, fertilizer plant to the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, where the death toll is now more than 700. In light of the latter, there is the temptation to say that what happened in Texas was an anomaly, and that conditions in US factories are so much better than in the developing world. But not so fast: A new report from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the nation's largest affiliation of unions, shows that 4,693 people died the job in the US in 2011 (the most recent year for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has released figures).

According to the "Death on the Job" report, the most dangerous occupations in the US in 2011 were in the agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting sectors; mining and transportation were also near the top of the list. The average fatality rate across all occupations was 3.5 deaths per 100,000 workers.

While the numbers are much lower than they were back in 1970, when 13,800 employees died on the job, the AFL-CIO notes that that fatality rate has not improved since 2008. And another estimated 50,000 workers die each year from work-related diseases like cancers and lung ailments.

Part of the issue, the AFL-CIO concludes, is that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) remains underfunded and understaffed, and that penalties are too low to deter violations:

Because of the underfunding, federal OSHA inspectors can only inspect workplaces once every 131 years on average, and state OSHA inspectors would take 76 years to inspect all workplaces.
OSHA penalties are too low to be taken seriously, let alone provide deterrence. The average penalty is only $2,156 for a serious federal health and safety violation, and only $974 for a state violation. Even in cases involving worker fatalities, the median total penalty was a paltry $5,175 for federal OSHA and $4,200 for the OSHA state plans. By contrast, property damage valued between $300 and $10,000 in the state of Illinois is considered a Class 4 felony and can carry a prison sentence of 1 to 3 years and a fine of up to $25,000.
Criminal penalties under OSHA are also weak. While there were 320 criminal enforcement cases initiated under federal environmental laws and 231 defendants charged in FY 2012, only 84 cases related to worker deaths have been prosecuted since 1970.

Read the full report here. Also be sure to check out the Center for Public Integrity's reporting on workplace safety in the chemical, steel, and fishing industries.

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FBI Agents Want Rep. Mike Rogers to Be Their New Boss. Here's Where He Stands on Civil Liberties

| Tue May. 7, 2013 9:50 AM PDT

The FBI Agents Association, which represents thousands of active and retired FBI agents, announced Monday that it wants Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House intelligence committee, to be the next head of the FBI. If nominated by President Obama, Rogers would take over from Robert S. Mueller III, whose term ends in September. Konrad Motyka, president of the Association, said in a statement that Rogers "exemplifies the principles that should be possessed by the next FBI director." What are those principles? Here's where Rogers stands on four key civil liberties issues:

1.) Online privacy

Rogers introduced the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), not once, but twice (the bill has so far failed to advance through the Senate both times.) CISPA aimed to beef up US cybersecurity efforts by lowering the legal barriers that keep the government and tech companies from openly sharing your personal information. As dozens of privacy groups pointed out, this meant that companies like Facebook and Google could potentially give the content of your emails to government agencies without a search warrant or court order. As this handy infographic from Boing Boing shows, under CISPA, you wouldn't necessarily need to be suspected of crime for the government to see your emails—being the unlucky target of a few key search words, like "marijuana," could be enough.

2.) Due process

Since February, prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center have been on a hunger strike to protest conditions at the prison. President Barack Obama has acknowledged that Guantanamo is a "lingering problem that is not going to get better, it's going to get worse. It's going to fester." Obama has put some of that blame on Congress. Rogers is one of the lawmakers who has blocked US funds from being used to transfer prisoners out of Guantanamo. He has said, of terrorism, "We do not need [famed federal Prohibition agent] Eliot Ness on the battlefield; what we need is Gen. George S. Patton."

In a March op-ed published in U.S. News and World Report, Rogers criticized the Obama Administration for trying Sulaiman Abu Gaith, a man identified as Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, in a federal New York City court: "Recognizing we are at war means understanding it is dangerous and ineffective to bring the enemy to the United States, to grant him the same rights as U.S. citizens standing trial, including Miranda rights, the right to remain silent, and the right to a U.S. taxpayer funded attorney." 

When Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a US citizen, was read his Miranda Rights, Rogers called the decision "confusing...horrible, [a] God-awful policy, and dangerous to the greater community." As my colleague Adam Serwer notes, "the only thing more embarrassing than being a federal prosecutor who doesn't understand the federal rules of criminal procedure is being a former FBI agent who doesn't understand them." 

3.) Wiretapping protections

As congressman, Rogers has supported extending the Patriot Act's "roving wiretaps", waiving the requirement to have a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for wiretapping at home and abroad, and allowing electronic surveillance without a warrant. 

4.) Oversight of drone strikes

Even though President Obama could hypothetically use drone strikes to kill US citizens on American soil, and reports show the program has minimal congressional oversight, Rogers isn't concerned: "I as chairman review every single air strike we use in the war on terror, both on the civilian and the military side when it comes to terrorist strikes," he told The Hill in February. "There's plenty of oversight there."

House GOP Advances Fake Pro-Working-Mother Bill

| Tue May. 7, 2013 9:44 AM PDT
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tours Richmond Public Schools adult career center.

In February, in the wake of their bruising loss at the polls in the 2012 presidential election, Republicans in Congress decided to launch a concerted effort to change their image and lure back a critical group of voters who abandoned the party in droves last year: women. To that end, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) gave a high-profile speech about how the party intended to "make life work" for working families. He emphasized women-friendly ideas like improving education, reducing the cost of college, and other key work/life balance issues. Among those he touched on was the idea of flex time. Cantor said:

If you're a working parent, you know there’s hardly ever enough time at home to be with the kids. Too many parents have to weigh whether they can afford to miss work even for half a day to see their child off on the first day of school or attend a parent-teacher conference.

Federal laws dating back to the 1930s make it harder for parents who hold hourly jobs to balance the demands of work and home. An hourly employee cannot convert previous overtime into future comp-time or flex-time. In 1985, Congress passed a law that gave state and municipal employees this flexibility, but today still denies that same privilege to the entire private sector. That’s not right...

Imagine if we simply chose to give all employees and employers this option. A working mom could work overtime this month and use it as time off next month without having to worry about whether she’ll be able to take home enough money to pay the rent. This is the kind of common sense legislation that should be non-controversial and moves us in the right direction to help make life work for families.

Flex-time as Cantor described it sounds great on paper—every working parent's dream even! But of course, the devil is in the details. Those details come in the form of the Working Families Flexibility Act, a bill Cantor introduced in April. Far from helping working families, the proposed legislation would instead deprive them of the longstanding right to be paid time-and-a-half for overtime. The bill would allow companies to give hourly workers comp time in lieu of overtime if the workers agree to it. That might not be such a terrible thing, except that the bill doesn't give workers any power to decide when to use the comp time. The employer gets to decide that. If the employer fails to let the worker use a bunch of accrued comp time, the bill would allow the worker to demand the overtime compensation in cash, but it gives the company 30 days to make good on the payment. And if the company stiffs the worker on the overtime compensation, the bill prevents workers from complaining to the US Department of Labor, as they can now, and instead forces them to try to find a lawyer who will take up their cause to collect a few hundred dollars worth of back pay, a fairly toothless enforcement measure. The bill, supported by the US Chamber of Commerce, is a backdoor attempt to shield big companies like Wal-Mart from costly lawsuits they've seen stemming from their systematic refusal to pay low-wage workers the overtime to which they're legally entitled.

All of this is why women's groups aren't signing on to the bill. The legislation "only pretends to give people the time they need to manage the dual demands of work and family," Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership on Women and Families, said this week as the bill moved forward in the House. "It is insulting that the House is wasting time with a bill that would make things so much worse."

Republicans' track record of helping working families is truly dismal, and one speech from Cantor isn't going to change that. Republicans fought the Family and Medical Leave Act tooth and nail (the first President Bush vetoed the bill twice before Bill Clinton finally signed it in to law) and have refused to expand it to include more people or paid leave so families could actually use it. This is the same party that rabidly opposes the Healthy Families Act, which would provide paid sick leave for more workers, a measure public health officials say is critical not just to family sanity but to the nation's health. Perhaps what's most depressing about the GOP's new working families bill is that Republican leaders thought women were dumb enough not to notice that it was just a cynical attempt to win women's votes while still catering to the GOP's big corporate backers.

Lew Slams Wall Street Deregulation Bills

| Tue May. 7, 2013 9:02 AM PDT

The House Financial Services Committee (HFSC) plans to vote on nine separate bills this week that have been presented as technical fixes to the sweeping 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. But these measures have the potential to dramatically weaken the legislation, which was designed to prevent another financial crisis a la 2007. Now Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has weighed in, condemning the measures in a letter to HFSC chair Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas).

"The derivatives provisions in the Wall Street Reform Act constitute an important part of the reforms being put into place to strengthen our financial system by improving transparency and reducing risk for market participants," Lew wrote in the letter. (Derivatives are financial products that have values based on underlying numbers, like crop prices or interest rates; some economists believe these products helped cause the 2007 financial collapse.) "These reforms should not be weekend or repealed."

Lew had, up until now, been silent on this set of bills. As I reported last month, former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner slammed a series of nearly identical bills last year, but Lew had so far declined to address the latest proposed changes. After our story ran, a Treasury spokeswoman reached out to clarify that, "Of course the Treasury secretary would oppose any effort to weaken Wall Street reform," and pointed to Lew's previous public statements opposing efforts to undermine Dodd-Frank or delay its implementation.

Monday's letter put that promise into action. "I urge Members to oppose these bills and others like it that would weaken the important regulatory changes that Wall Street Reform has made to the derivatives market," he wrote. He added that only some of the rules governing the derivatives market have been finalized, so these bills are "premature":

Regulators are already addressing many of the issues presented in these bills through their rule makings. In many instances, legislation is premature and aspects would be disruptive and harmful to the implementation of key reforms. We should allow the regulators to complete their ongoing rule makings, and then determine what changes, if any, might be necessary in certain areas to improve the effectiveness of these reforms.

One of the bills before the committee this week would allow certain derivatives that are traded within a corporation to be exempt from almost all new Dodd-Frank regulations. Financial reform advocates say these kinds of trades can still pose a risk to the wider financial system. Another measure would expand the type of trading risks that banks can take on. A third bill would allow big, multinational US-based banks to escape US regulations by operating through international arms.

While some Democrats in the committee share Lew's concerns about the measures, the bills do have bipartisan support. It is unclear whether the bills will pass. House Financial Services Committee members received some $14.8 million in contributions from the financial services and banking sectors during the last election cycle. This week, we will see where members' loyalties lie.

MoveOn, Sierra Club, and Daily Kos Spike Facebook Ads to Protest Mark Zuckerberg's Dark-Money Group

| Tue May. 7, 2013 8:43 AM PDT
Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg.

Nine big-name progressive groups, including MoveOn.org, the Sierra Club, and Daily Kos, announced Tuesday morning that they will yank their current paid advertisements on Facebook or cancel future ad buys in protest of FWD.us, the dark-money nonprofit that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg cofounded.

Zuckerberg and fellow tech entrepreneur Joe Green launched FWD.us last month in order to give Silicon Valley a greater political presence in Washington on issues that affect the tech industry. A bipartisan, bicoastal team of political strategists and organizers is running the operation, and the group's public supporters include the CEO of Dropbox, the cofounder of LinkedIn, a smattering of rock-star tech investors, and some guy named Bill Gates. The group has reportedly raised $25 million already, and while it lists its "major contributors" online, it does not say how much they contributed. FWD.us chose immigration reform as its first big cause, and it has lobbied Congress to expand the number of visas available to foreign engineers and other high-skilled workers that Silicon Valley firms would like to recruit.

As part of its immigration strategy, FWD.us ran a week's worth of ads praising Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) for supporting more drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) and featuring Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) criticizing Obamacare and President Obama's stance on the Keystone XL pipeline. FWD.us ran the ads ostensibly to buy Begich and Graham some political cover to take a more moderate tack on immigration reform.

The ads are no longer on the air, but progressives are nonetheless fuming over FWD.us' tactics. Protesters recently demonstrated outside of Facebook's Menlo Park, California, headquarters, chanting, "Keystone, take a hike. Facebook dislike." CREDO Mobile, the progressive phone company*, distributed signs for that protest and also tried to run an ad on Facebook urging Zuckerberg to kill the pro-Keystone ads. Facebook rejected the ad, saying it violated company policy because it prominently used Zuckerberg's image.

Progressives United, a liberal nonprofit founded by former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), is leading the freeze on Facebook ad buys, which will last at least two weeks. Other participants in the protest include Democracy for America, the political action committee founded by Howard Dean; CREDO Super-PAC and CREDO Mobile; League of Conservation Voters; 350.org; and Presente, the progressive Hispanic advocacy group. It is unclear how much these groups actually spend or plan to spend on Facebook ads; there was no mention of Facebook ad spending in their announcement.

Kate Hansen, a spokeswoman for FWD.us, directed a request for comment to Facebook. Sarah Feinberg, a Facebook spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Leaders of the groups protesting Facebook said they don't disagree with FWD.us on the need for a major overhaul of the nation's immigration system. Their beef is with the nonprofit's political strategy thus far. "Leaders in the technology community have every right to talk about how immigration reform will benefit their businesses," Feingold said in a statement. "But instead, FWD.us has chosen a strategy that's condescending to voters and counterproductive to the cause of reform."

Nick Berning, a spokesman for MoveOn, added: "MoveOn members are committed to passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year, but unlike FWD.us, we don't support throwing other important issues like access to health care and action to combat climate change under the bus to do it. We find FWD.us and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's advertisements promoting the dangerous Keystone XL pipeline and criticizing Obamacare deeply disturbing."

*Disclosure: Mother Jones is among the dozens of nonprofits that have received funding from CREDO Mobile through its customer-selected action program.