Russ Feingold is going after Facebook.
In an email to supporters of his advocacy group, Progressives United, which pushes to reduce the influence of corporate money in elections, the former senator blasted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, accusing the billionaire of running “dirty” political ads through a group set up as his company’s lobbying arm, FWD.us.
The ads that drew Feingold’s ire have run in a handful of right-leaning states and praise incumbent senators for supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline and oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The thing is, FWD.us doesn’t care about energy policy. According to its website, the group is dedicated entirely to reforming immigration policy. But it is running the ads as favors to senators who are likely to support a comprehensive immigration reform bill but are under pressure from conservative voters in their states to oppose it.
“They think running these ads will help their allies, so all other concerns fly out the window,” said Feingold in the email.
It’s basically a huge campaign contribution, but instead of writing a check to Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, you run an ad campaign in his state boasting of his support for Alaska’s oil industry.
In protest, a number of progressive and environmental groups, including Progressives United, the Sierra Club, Democracy for America, CREDO and the League of Conservation Voters, are no longer advertising on Facebook. They are urging others to pull their ads as well.
In its denunciation of the social media mogul, the coalition nevertheless heaps praise on Facebook as an institution of grass-roots democracy — a tool it ultimately hopes will doom Zuckerberg’s “cynical inside game.”
Here is the call to action:
“(Facebook) was built for us: everyday citizens sharing information on a social network. And we can use it to organize and call out the abuses of Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, for his runaround lobbying strategy. But this will only be powerful if so many people 'like' this page that Zuckerberg can't ignore it.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the coalition's Facebook page had roughly 6,000 'likes.' For a network with over a billion members, that number will likely have to get considerably higher in the coming days before Zuckerberg gets nervous.
FWD.us, like many political groups, claims to be an “issues advocacy” organization. It has applied to the Internal Revenue Service to be classified as a 501(c)4 group, meaning it would not have to disclose its spending or donors.
Cole Leystra, executive director of Progressives United, said the fact that the ads FWD.us is running have nothing to do with the group’s proclaimed mission demonstrate with particular poignancy that the TV spots are “phony issue ads,” ads that serve to influence an election, rather than to educate the public on policy.
“This is just very blatant,” he said. “(The group hasn’t) been dishonest about the fact that they’re running these ads to provide cover for these senators on immigration.”
It is not that rare, of course, for “issue advocacy groups” to run TV spots on topics outside of their domains. A good example in Wisconsin would be Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which this spring ran an ad touting state Supreme Court Justice Pat Roggensack for being tough on sex offenders. Reducing crime is not one of the nine issues WMC promotes on its website.