Mark Zuckerberg’s Politics of Cynicism

Many were intrigued if not excited by the announcement that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg would fund, along with other technology figures including Reid Hoffman from LinkedIn and Joe Green of Nation Builder a new group called to fight for comprehensive immigration reform – a necessary and laudable goal.

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While promising to “harness the best of new and old organizing tactics” the group, called, has fallen prey to the most cynical elements of our political process. Using two subsidiary organizations, one supporting Democrats, the other Republicans, the group launched a seven-figure ad buy in South Carolina and Alaska.

Think Progress reports:

“The GOP-lead group, called Americans For A Conservative Direction, has created an ad in support of Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) which praises him for supporting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and expanded drilling elsewhere. The ad, which does not mention immigration policy, also attacks Obamacare, ‘wasteful stimulus spending,’ and ‘seedy Chicago-style politics.

“The other group, called Council for American Job Growth and purportedly intended to appeal to liberals, lauds Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) for ‘working to open ANWR to drilling.’ The ad also does not mention immigration reform but does highlight Begich’s support of a balanced budget amendment.”


The strategy behind the ads is clear. Graham is a member of the Gang of Eight that produced the comprise immigration bill in the Senate and potentially faces a primary from the right.

Begich who is supportive of the Gang of Eight proposal, is already under fire from anti-immigrant groups. He won in 2008 by a single point against the late Ted Stevens, who was convicted on charges of corruption eight days before Election Day. 

Unlike traditional advocacy groups, does not focus its ads on the issues it is campaigning on. Instead it ads are clearly transactional. You support the issues we care about and we will publicly run ads on issues you want to talk about. While this quid pro quo relationship has occurred on the corporate advocacy side, it is remarkable in that is running ads seemingly in opposition to the explicit message of its founders.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post launching Mark Zuckerberg contrasted the economy his groups would try to create versus the one driven by the fossil fuel giants overthe last century, writing:

“The economy of the last century was primarily based on natural resources, industrial machines and manual labor. Many of these resources were zero-sum and controlled by companies. If someone else had an oil field, then you did not. There were only so many oil fields, and only so much wealth could be created from them. Today’s economy is very different. It is based primarily on knowledge and ideas.”

Yet his groups’ first act is to explicitly and cynically run ads supporting the interests of the very economic model Zuckerberg claims is antiquated.

Passing comprehensive immigration reform, and in particular, granting DREAMERs a path to citizenship, is a moral, economic and political necessity. But the strategies employed by, even if ultimately successful are a bridge too far. To be clear I would find nothing wrong or distasteful if ran ads aligned with its mission – in this case praising or attacking candidates for their position on immigration reform. And I agree this effort needs to be bipartisan.

I don’t ask for purity, but at the same time it would be hypocrisy at its highest level to condemn the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson and others who use their financial wealth to distort the political process in the most cynical ways, and not condemn similar tactics when they are used by those with whom, on a particular issue, I am ideologically aligned.

Ultimately the damage done to our political process by this cynical strategy is not worth the rewards it might theoretically bring.