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Facebook's New PAC Shows DC's Innovative and Risk-Taking Methods Are Spreading to Silicon Valley

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, September 27 2011

If the world needed further proof that the innovative and risk-taking methods of Washington, DC were spreading deeper into the American economy, it got its answer yesterday when Facebook, one of the fastest growing and most successful companies in Silicon Valley, announced that it was forming a political action committee, FB PAC. Andrew Noyes, Facebook's spokesman in Washington, explained the decision: "FB PAC will give our employees a way to make their voice heard in the political process by supporting candidates who share our goals of promoting the value of innovation to our economy while giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected."

Political action committees are all the rage in Washington, which is booming right now even though most of the rest of America is in an economic rut. Of course, some companies believe that lobbying is the more innovative platform to invest in, given the return on investment potential. Having millions of users, and thousands of developers building third-party tools on top of their platforms, that transform everyone's lives by making it easier for people to connect, create, and collaborate, is apparently not considered enough to affect the all-important political process, the source of so much wealth-creation in America.

Of course, Facebook's decision is not uncommon. Silicon Valley has been watching the development of political action committees and lobbying for some time, and a split has formed in its ranks between those who think they are the wave of the future, and those who insist on sticking to the older, more traditional, methods that made them successful in the first place.

Thus some old-school technologists at companies like Mozilla, Wikipedia, Reddit, Code for America, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have resisted setting up their own PACs and hiring lobbyists, preferring instead to engage the public using old-fashioned tools like wikis, blogs, open-source software, hackerthons, and volunteer supporters. But Facebook's move into the cutting-edge world of campaign contributions, like those of its rivals at Google and Microsoft, as well as the content and telecom industries, is further proof that the tried-and-true methods of innovating in the online arena are being subsumed by Washington's more dynamic and compelling system. One can only assume that Twitter will be the next to set up a PAC.

As my colleague Andrew Rasiej likes to say, "Most technologists don't know the difference between bundle and a bundler."* It's time the rest of the tech world got up to speed on how technology is being changed by money-sourced politics. Facebook's new PAC shows that it realizes that concentrated bursts of highly targeted campaign contributions, along with intensive lobbying engagement, are the wave of the future.

*Actually, he likes to say, "Most politicians still don't know the difference between a server and a waiter," but we all know he's just being sarcastic.