FWD.US's cynical, politics-as-usual tactics

On May 8, the New York Times published an article detailing some of the blow back from liberal groups to FWD.US's politically advocacy to get immigration reform passed.  (Note that on FWD.US's "In the News" tab on their website, of course none of the media stories critical of the group's actions are posted.) FWD.US is the tech advocacy group founded by Mark Zuckerberg and other members of the tech community including Bill Gates, to push comprehensive immigration reform  getting many more H-1B visas for the industry.  In a marketing move, the FWD.us homepage is a black and white photo of presumably immigrants on a boat sailing into NY harbor; another page is a color photo of the Statue of Liberty. 

Although the group claims it is interested in comprehensive immigration reform, it is really just interested in getting more H-1Bs for the industry in a manner that is least cumbersome for the tech firms, as evidenced by its lobbyists push to tweak only the legislative language governing H-1bs and then to "jealously guard" the Senate bill against amendments that might weaken their H-1B provisions (ie provisions that would open the employers up to legal liability and/or provide more protections for U.S. workers who may be displaced by H1-B hires).

In the last few days, reports surfaced that groups tied to FWD.US have spent millions in ads selling immigration reform and providing political cover to conservative senators.  The revelation has drawn fire from liberal groups not because Zuckerberg and FWD.US were supporting conservatives and conservative causes per se, but because of the lack of transparency over where the money came from and how it is being spent.  The LA Times characterized FWD.US's spending this way:

Fwd.us is spending seven figures in seven states to frame immigration reform as a conservative issue. The first round of ad buys makes no mention of immigration. Instead the ads tout lawmakers' support of causes embraced by conservatives.

Fwd.us is essentially bankrolling the reelection of senators who might be vulnerable in 2014 such as Democrat Mark Begich in Alaska and Republican Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. The goal is to get their votes on immigration reform.

Others within the tech industry have also criticized FWD.US's tactics.  FWD.US claims that it expected the blow back and Business Insider reports that one of its contributors, Jim Breyer from Accell Partners, wrote in a statement that, "Our advertising decisions are being made by a very smart team of political operatives who know that passing major reform will require some different and innovative tactics."  The NYT also noted another FWD.US supporter, Chamath Palihapitiya, argued that Fwd.Us needs to be “disruptive” in politics, as it is in commerce.

But that's just what is drawing all the fire.  There is nothing "different" or "innovative" about what FWD.US has been doing.  Fredreka Schouton and Alan Gomez at USA Today reported that the tech industry is driving the immigration bill and vastly outspending all the other lobbying groups who stand to benefit from the bill.  They note, "Their spending, totaling $13.8 million, swamps the $80,000 one longtime immigration advocate, the National Council of La Raza, spent on lobbying during the same time period." 

Make no mistake, FWD.US is just engaging in the time-honored practice of brass knuckle politics by outspending the competition and buying key senate votes to get what it wants.  Their operatives bristled about critiques over their tactics and said, “We did not just fall off the turnip truck. There are a lot of people involved in these organizations that have been involved in politics for a really long time.” Doing the same-old, same-old moneyed power plays in Washington is nothing new, trying to sell it to people as "disrupting" "different" and "innovative" politics?  Now that's naive.