When Facebook’s infamous founder Mark Zuckerberg announced last year that he was launching his own advocacy group for immigration reform, excitement abounded. His group, FWD.us, seemed to have everything going for it – youthful digital expertise and the deep pockets of Silicon Valley coming together to fight for a noble cause. But now, just over a year after its launch, Congress is no closer to passing an immigration reform package, and FWD.us has seemingly disappeared from the debate. So how did someone like Zuckerberg, capable of running a billion dollar business, manage to drop the ball on managing a simple advocacy group?
For starters, there is a dramatic differences between the way Silicon Valley solves problems and the way Washington handles things. FWD.us left the gate looking to win support from any source willing to be a friend to immigration reform. Washington however, runs on political division, and operates with an “either you’re with us or against us” mentality.
“In Silicon Valley, if you don’t like the taxi industry, you start Uber, you go around it,” FWD.us President Joe Green explained in an interview with POLITICO. “With politics you have to work through it, and doing that can be very challenging.”
As a result, FWD.us managed to make enemies with some of the strongest proponents of its mission. In an effort to encourage Republicans to support the Senate backed immigration reform bill, FWD.us has launched a number of television ads touting prominent Republicans conservative credentials. One ad for example, praised Senator Lindsey Graham’s support for the Keystone XL pipeline and opposition to Obamacare. This strategy led to a loss of support from such prominent liberal backers as Elon Musk and David Sacks, who felt uncomfortable sleeping with the enemy even if it was in the name of immigration reform.
The fact that money has never been an issue for FWD.us shows that strategy can trump financing, especially when it comes to such a divisive issue as immigration reform. Since it’s launch in April 2013, FWD.us has spent $780,000 on lobbying, has launched six figure ad buys in targeted markets nation wide, and still has a coffer of $25 million. But all this funding hasn’t been enough to lessen the impression that FWD.us has been playing both sides of the aisle.
Even the internal marketing campaigns of FWD.us have fallen flat. The group’s app, which allows users to directly contact their representatives to ask for immigration reform, has had less than 500 downloads. A public campaign called Selfies4Reform, which encouraged users to post photos of themselves supporting immigration on social media, was lambasted as the worst kind of passive, narcissistic activism.
Despite these setbacks, FWD.us continues to push forward, pouring more and more money into the 2014 midterm elections on the hopeless hope that immigration reform has even the slightest shot of happening this year. But Zuckerberg would be smart to take a step back. The brand of FWD.us isn’t exactly well respected when it comes to positive advocacy strategy, but it can still have an impact on the money war. Rather than proselytizing, the best use of FWD.us at this point would be as a direct money channel to pro-immigration candidates in tough races. Zuckerberg tried his hand at advocacy and failed. But he still makes a damn powerful fundraiser.