Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made headlines today on the announcement of his new technology lobby, FWD.us, that he formed with his powerful Silicon Valley friends. But, behind the starstruck stories of DC’s new power players, it should be noted that the technology industry already has a litany of lobbies, comprised of the same board members as FWD.us, who have been active in politics for years. Before everyone gets carried away, it’s worth understanding what tech money has gotten Silicon Valley already and what FWD.us will need to do to distinguish itself.
What Already Exists
The technology industry is handsomely represented in the halls of Congress. According to OpenSecrets, the industry’s lobbying coffers shoveled out $202 million in 2012, almost twice as much as in 2004 ($105M). Facebook even has its own Political Action Committee to fund specific candidates. And, to be sure, most major tech corporations have swanky DC diggs, where they throw elaborate champagne parties on rooftop decks (I have enjoyed their expensive appetizers many times).
In addition in-house teams, there are a number of similar independent lobby groups, including the Internet Association, Engine Advocacy, TechNet, The Consumer Electronics Association, and The Silicon Valley Leadership Group–to name a few. Yahoo CEO Marrissa Mayer, a member of Zuckberg’s FWD.us, also sits on the board of Technet. Like the tech companies themselves, the varying lobbies disagree on thorny issues such as the Internet sales tax, which pits pro-taxation eBay against its digital rival, Amazon. But, there’s far more agreement than disagreement, especially on immigration reform.
FWD.us Could Be Different
The bright folks at FWD.us are no tourists of the political landscape. But, to distinguish themselves, they’ll need at least one of a few proof-points
- Get the board members vocal in non-generic ways. Zuckerberg’s Washington Post OpEd was elegant and powerful, but it didn’t say anything new. In order for the message to get into the DC psyche, FWD.us members need to be the epicenter of bold, sticky ideas.
- A viral campaign. FWD.us is smartly targeting Silicon Valley’s employees in a grassroots campaign, many of whome are personally impacted by immigration reform. Last Election, Ron Conway’s Sf.citi managed to score a win at the ballot box for a local tax measure by reaching out directly to the citizens of San Francisco. Bloomberg has his own immigration-themed social media campaign, The March For Innovation; it’s unclear whether FWD.us will compliment or compete with Bloomberg.