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The US tech sector’s bare-knuckle immigration lobby loses Elon Musk

Tim Fernholz

Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur whose ventures focus on renewable energy, has withdrawn his support from a high-profile political group advocating immigration reform that was recently formed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Reuters reported.

Musk won’t say why he’s leaving, but it comes a week after the group, called FWD.usattracted criticism for funding ads promoting drilling in Alaska’s national wildlife refuge and a proposed oil pipeline between the United States and Canada. The public relations blowback stung the group, but Musk’s departure is the first sign of a real fracture.

The pragmatic ads by FWD.us’s political action committee were intended to promote the conservative bonafides of Republican senators who might be willing to back an immigration reform bill. Conservatives are skeptical of supporting legislation that would put 10 million unauthorized immigrants on a path to citizenship. But tech executives are pushing for the bill because it would increase the number of highly-skilled foreign workers coveted by companies like Facebook and PayPal, which Musk co-founded.

After eBay purchased PayPal in 2002,  Musk focused on clean-energy companies he founded like SolarCity, which markets consumer access to solar electricity, and Tesla, the maker of electric cars. He also has used his fortune to support renewable energy research and combat global warming.

Another supporter of FWD.us, David Sacks, has also left. Like Musk, he is a former PayPal executive, and he founded and sold Yammer, the enterprise social network. In 2005, Sacks produced a movie, Thank You For Smoking, centered on the moral compromises of a Washington lobbyist.

Other prominent environmentalists backing the group include Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Kleiner Perkins partner John Doerr, who have not commented on the ads thus far.

Zuckerberg, the face of the group and its co-founder, has experience with criticism for political heterodoxy after supporting both Democrats like US president Barack Obama and Republicans like New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

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