Tech

Elon Musk explains why he jumped ship from Zuckerberg's FWD.us

By Michael Mayday , May 30, 2013 07:30 PM EDT
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Silicon Valley tech companies may be united in their desire for immigration reform, but they're not united in how to realize that change.

That division was punctuated earlier this month when Telsa CEO Elon Musk and Yammer co-founder David Sacks both departed FWD.us, Mark Zuckerberg's multi-million dollar political action group focused on effecting immigration and education reform on a national level.

Musk didn't explain the reasons for his departure at the time. That changed on Wednesday, when Musk articulated his unease with the group's lobbying techniques in an interview at AllThingsD's annual tech conference.

"Initially, I agreed to be a part of FWD.us because I agree with immigration reform," Musk said. "But I think the methods that were employed - it was a little too Kissinger-esque, Realpolitik."

Musk is referring to the controversial methods employed by FWD.us to lobby for immigration reform. While the methods used may be par for the course in Washington D.C., they apparently didn't jibe well with the Silicon Valley ethos of progressive openness.

Zuckerberg's group came under fire by Silicon Valley backers when it was discovered the lobbying group bought ads supporting drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for Democratic Alaskan Senator Mark Begich, and ads supporting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline for Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham.

"In service of noble causes, FWD.us is employing questionable lobbying techniques, misleading supporters, and not being transparent about the underlying values and long-term intentions of the organization," Josh Miller, founder of New York-based startup Branch, said about FWD.us in an editorial published in BuzzFeed.

But those techniques, while uncomfortable for some, may actually translate into tangible results.

"There are two types of outside groups that get involved in Washington," Todd Harris, a senior strategist for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said in an interview with PandoDaily. "There are the groups that are primarily concerned with making their funders and board members feel good about themselves, and then there are the groups that are actually trying to get something done."

FWD.us, Harris says, falls into the category of actually trying to get something done. But getting something done may not sit well with deep-pocketed Silicon Valley backers, who'd rather see a more idealistic method of effecting policy reform.

"I think we should try to make things happen for the right reason. We shouldn't give in to the politics," Musk said. "If we give in to that, we'll get the political system we deserve."

Regardless of the reasons, the immigration reform bill, recently passing the Senate Judiciary Committee, is set to head to the Senate floor this summer for deliberation.

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