On St. Valentine's Day Eve, February 13, 2012, Facebook
(NASDAQ:FB) founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan will host a fundraiser for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at their Palo Alto, CA, home. Zuckerberg's invitation follows his $100 million donation to the New Jersey public school system and the relationship that unfolded thereafter. This fundraiser will be aimed directly at Christie's reelection as Governor of New Jersey this year. The incumbent governor has already raised $2 million versus the $215,000 raised by his Democratic opponent, Senator Barbara Buono.
With no strong prior showing of any political allegiance (though Zuckerberg seems to favor Obama -- in 2011, he had a pleasant dinner with the president and other tech execs, and later, Facebook held a town hall meeting that the president attended), this could be a taste of Zuckerberg's true political allegiance. Or, it could really be about school reform (his wife is a school teacher and he has made known his commitment to education reform). Either way, the news has ruffled the feathers of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA).
The DGA has called for Zuckerberg to abandon the event, with a tweet linking to a petition to stop Zuckerberg from hosting the fundraiser. As of the time of this writing, however, the petition is returning an error page. I was not able to get through on the phone to ask them why. At least on the tweet, no reason was given as to why this fundraiser should be blocked. Why should Zuckerberg not be allowed to legally fund raise for whomever he chooses?
The Republican Governors Association (RGA) tweeted yesterday, "We're not surprised to see @DemGovs more concerned with Mark Zuckerberg than winning governors races. It's why they only have 19 out of 50 govs."
And just hours ago, in response to the petition error page, they tweeted, "Looks like the @DemGovs decided to defriend their petition attacking Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg." This may indeed be what happened. (Also, isn't it "unfriend" in general parlance?)
Yesterday, after the news was announced, the RGA posted this link to a Wall Street Journal
blog post about the fundraiser, adding in their post, "This definitely deserves a lot of LIKES!"
Whether the error page for the DGA's petition means they pulled it down, or its just not working, remains to be seen. But without any given reason to petition the fundraiser other than the obvious political rivalry, taking it down would perhaps make sense. After all, Zuckerberg's motives are pure and for the good of education, or at least they seem so.
However, there has been some ACLU litigation concerning Zuckerberg's $100 million donation that darken the picture. In August 2011 the ACLU sued Newark over the transparency of the donation (see more here), and just a month ago, on December 26, the ACLU won a lawsuit against Cory Booker, mayor Newark, forcing the release of emails with Facebook executives, further delving into those issues of transparency. With the original donation, the money was to be distributed independently by Booker (see more here).
The news of the fundraiser and the subsequent online bickering from the Governor's Associations has led to the question: What is this really about? And the answer is Chris Christie. In an article for Salon
, Andrew Leonard writes:
Zuckerberg’s politics are less important to this equation than Christie’s. Chris Christie is the rarest of Republican leaders — a politician in 2013 who has demonstrated some appeal across the aisle. As a warning shot signaling “electability” to Republican primary voters in 2016, Zuckerberg’s endorsement might sound a little loud.
What this could be is a sign to Washington and the voting populace that yes, a Billionaire from a part of the country that generally votes overwhelmingly blue can fundraise for a Republican. It could be a push for bipartasinship. It could be that Mark Zuckerberg sincerely believes in education reform, and sees New Jersey as the right place to begin it, and sees Christie as the man for the job. As Leonard writes, "It is probably safe to say that the key elements of education reform in Newark--charter schools, breaking the power of teacher unions--won't rankle the techies. Silicon Valley may be blue, but it is hardly a stronghold for organized labor."
This being said, it remains to be seen whether the techies will be rankled by Christie's outspoken opposition to abortion and gay marriage. In the eyes of Zuckerberg and his Silicon Valley friends and associates that will attend the fundraiser, can that part of Christie's politics be reconciled with his pro-education reform stance that Zuckerberg supports? Major tech companies Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) both made the list of Best Companies for Gay Rights in Canada and the US, and Facebook was one of many company's, including Google, Apple, Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO), Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO), and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), to join the No on Prop 8 campaign. Maybe Christie's strong conservative stances on gay marriage and abortion will shift with Silicon valley donors.
Whatever all this means in the end, Christie certainly is not a man to turn down a golden opportunity. As Christie said in a news conference yesterday, “When Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan offer to host a fundraiser for you, you say, yes sir, what time?”
We will certainly see more intrigue in on Twitter and Facebook as Valentine's Day Eve approached, and we'll be following it and trying to make sense of this potential call for bipartisanship.
No positions in stocks mentioned.