FWD.us, the tech industry political advocacy group bankrolled by as much as $20 million of Mark Zuckerberg’s money, got off to a preposterous start by paying for TV ads for two senators who support the controversial Keystone Pipeline and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The pipeline, NASA climate scientist James Hansen has written, would facilitate exploitation of Canada’s tar sands, which “would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts.” So it’s not a good look for a group backed by a guy who wrote a high-profile Washington Post op-ed lamenting that oil fields were the basis for the “economy of the last century.”
FWD.us backer Elon Musk, who also happens to be one of the world’s most powerful clean-tech boosters, was apparently not amused. In a statement to PandoDaily, climate change activist and journalist Bill McKibben, who once led a White House sit-in against the Keystone Pipeline and who has called on Silicon Valley to mobilize against the fossil fuels industry, said “one hopes that most of our 21st century tech leaders won’t end up supporting 18th century energy technology.”
If you happen to share Musk and McKibben’s misgivings but still want the startup community to have a voice in Washington DC, then you’re in luck: you have an alternative. For more than a year before FWD.us came along and bungled its launch and then pissed off half of Silicon Valley with its first deployment of capital – defended by the organization as politics as usual, as if that’s what the world needs right now – Engine Advocacy was quietly working behind the scenes to build a bridge between the startup community and political leaders in DC.
The difference between Engine Advocacy and FWD.us, however, is that the former can’t draw on the largess of a certain Facebook founder. In fact, Engine doesn’t even charge its members – startups – to be part of the organization. Instead, it relies largely on contributions, making it kind of the NPR of public advocacy. Rather than attempting to represent the wider “tech industry,” which encompasses giant companies that can have interests that conflict with startups’ interests, Engine keeps its focus squarely on early-stage companies.
In a new blog post, Engine has put a call out for donations, saying community support is critical to its ability to “bring the community together, undertake research, and develop successful campaigns to educate lawmakers, local elected officials, and the public about the impact the tech sector can have on economic growth and job creation.”
FWD.us has made immigration reform its top priority, but that’s an issue Engine has been hammering for a while now, as evidenced by its strong support for the March for Innovation, which takes place from May 22 to 23. In a letter that the advocacy group has sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the Senate immigration bill, which would increase the number of visas for high-skilled immigrants and establish a “startup visa” for foreign entrepreneurs, Engine Advocacy co-founder Michael McGeary says startups “can power the next generation of growth in the American economy if we let them.”
The proposed bill, writes McGeary, would help “catalyze continued economic growth in our community, and opportunity for the country as a whole.”
And yeah, that sounds a lot like what Zuckerberg said. But at least this version doesn’t come with the after-stench of oil-drenched political trade-off.