Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is currently the world’s fifth-richest person, has so far publicly committed $45 million to specific political causes, according to a Vice News report published Tuesday.
The hefty sum — although still a fraction of his fortunes — will be directed for the solving of two main areas of personal concern for Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan: widespread incarceration and unaffordable housing. The funds will come from the personal coffers of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), a limited liability company that outwardly reflects a foundation.
To help with allocation and management of the finances, and the larger political work of the organization overall, Zuckerberg has brought on seasoned Beltway operatives. The 33-year-old entrepreneur recently hired Democratic pollster Joel Benenson, the chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and former top adviser to former President Barack Obama, according to Politico. Several months prior to that, the couple recruited David Plouffe, the campaign manager for Obama’s 2008 presidential run, to lead its policy and advocacy work.
Along with a cross-country stumping tour, many observers took these additions and maneuvers as a sure sign Zuckerberg is going to run for president. But, much like The Daily Caller News Foundation pointed out, these were not moves in preparation for a quest for the highest U.S. political office. They were a different form of power grab in which external political advocacy and direct engagement and lobbying combined with deep pockets can potentially be just as effective. (RELATED: Zuckerberg Tells DACA Critics That ‘Dreamers Have A Special Love For This Country’)
“You can make change, but in order for it to be sustainable, you need to build a movement to support it,” Zuckerberg said in an interview with The New York Times around the time of Plouffe’s hiring. “No amount of private research or philanthropy is going to shift that. At the end of the day, the government has far more resources than any individual organization does.”
Short-sighted, hasty predictions about Zuckerberg’s personal political aspirations have temporarily tempered as CZI’s work continues. The group has announced nine grants in the past five weeks, including ones to Alliance for Safety and Justice and The American Conservative Union Foundation’s (ACUF) Center for Criminal Justice Reform, reports Vice News.
“Reform of the justice system crosses political, social, ideological, and racial lines,” David Safavian, deputy director of the ACUF, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “ACUF likes the fact that these issues bring people of vastly different backgrounds and philosophies together. Criminal justice reform unites people of good faith because at their core these issues are about protecting human dignity and liberty. We are thrilled that CZI is helping us deliver that message to conservatives and libertarians.”
And the money isn’t just directly for those primary initiatives — CZI also may see an opportunity for influence in state and local politics.
“[CZI] money is more likely to be a difference-maker on the state level than the federal level,” said Lenore Anderson, a Chan-Zuckerberg grantee, according to Vice. After some success, that could definitely change.
“They’ll find that to really force systemic change, they’ll quickly be focusing on the federal level, because that’s where you get scale,” said Juleanna Glover, a Republican consultant with experience in the tech industry.
Nevertheless, what remains clear is Zuckerberg’s intent on throwing his hat in the political arena, just not as a political candidate, but rather a financier and advocate.
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