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Zuckerberg's FWD.us Losing Members Fast

By Michael Mayday , May 11, 2013 06:26 PM EDT
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FWD.us, Mark Zuckerberg's $20 million nonprofit political advocacy group launched in March, is losing face in the very industry it seeks to represent in Washington D.C. The organization, seeking immigration and education reform which would benefit the technology industry, has made headlines for the range of Silicon Valley billionaires backing it.

But Zuckerberg's lobbying organization stoked the ire of fellow tech entrepreneurs by paying for televised ads supporting the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline for three lawmakers. Some of the founding members of FWD.us, most notably Elon Musk, founder of the electric carmaker Tesla and an advocate of clean energy in the tech industry, have left the group, saying its tacit support of the pipeline doesn't sit well with their environmentalist roots and 21-st century technology ethos.

"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," Musk said in a statement to AllThingsD. "I have spent a lot of time fighting far larger lobbying organizations in D.C. and believe that the right way to win on a cause is to argue the merits of that cause."

The Keystone XL Pipeline is a proposed pipeline stretching from tar sands fields in Alberta, Canada to oil refinery plants in Texas. The Alberta tar sands is a geographical area in northern Canada containing massive amounts of recoverable oil which was previously untapped due to the price and difficulty of production. The price and production barriers are no longer a concern.

The tar sands are considered notoriously dirty because of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during production. Any movement to further establish the sands as an oil production area has been a rallying call for environmentalists in the U.S. and Canada. Those environmentalists, in turn, claim that technological progress in electric cars and solar energy will be enough to reduce the need for oil. If the pipeline is built, they claim, the demand and drive for these new technologies will go down while the environment is critically damaged.

But Musk isn't the only tech industry heavyweight to leave FWD.us: David Sacks, chief executive of Yammer, an enterprise social networking company, has also departed the group, though he has not made a statement explaining his decision.

Facebook also faces direct backlash. Environmentalist and left-leaning organizations like the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, Presente.org and MoveOn.org have all withdrawn paid advertisements on Facebook and won't order more for at least two weeks. Some, as TechCrunch reports, have even taken to the Facebook page of FWD.us.

But the backlash may amount to nothing. Politico reports FWD.us, and other tech lobbying organizations, have adopted lobbying tactics previously considered to be the domain of D.C. Beltway organizations.

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