Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, who is also a member of the Walmart Board of Directors, is under fire for backing a group that’s bringing Walmart-style politics to Silicon Valley.
The Valley is home to an incredibly wealthy cohort of tech industry entrepreneurs, investors, and executives. Despite their wealth, Silicon Valley elites clearly contrast themselves with old-school corporate titans like the Koch brothers and the Waltons (the family that owns a majority share in Walmart). The Valley’s political culture has tilted against the proverbial smoke-filled room and toward transparency.
That culture may be changing, however. And perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Marissa Mayer – a Silicon Valley executive with close ties to Walmart – is caught up in the transformation. Still, the details in this case are surprising because they reveal a side of Marissa Mayer that seems at odds with her very public persona.
Mayer is a major Obama donor and fundraiser – and even had the president over to her house for dinner with a select group of Silicon Valley tech royalty. She’s for marriage equality. And Mayer’s husband, Zack Bogue, is an ardent environmentalist whose tweets about climate change and the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline make clear his disdain for corporate lobbyists and politicians who are blocking action on the climate issue (some examples here and here).
Now it turns out that Mayer is backing FWD.us, a political advocacy group that has funded ads attacking President Obama and backing Republican Senators who have been among his foremost critics. And there’s more. Some of the ads also tout the Senators’ support for oil pipeline and drilling projects that environmentalists (including Zack Bogue) oppose.
FWD.us was set up by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his college roommate Joe Green, with the primary goal of loosening restrictions on visas for foreign tech workers.
Adweek explains that FWD.us sought to win conservative votes for their issue by spending up to “seven figures… fronting ads for conservative causes.”
As reported in the Washington Post, one of the ads features Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) attacking President Obama and his agenda. Another FWD.us-backed ad champions Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) for his support of the Keystone XL pipeline and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The ads that Mayer apparently helped fund don’t even mention immigration reform.
Some commentators have pointed to the lack of principle demonstrated by FWD.us, which is simultaneously funding liberal and conservative subsidiaries (see here). One FWD.us subsidiary, the Council for American Job Growth, is intended to appeal to liberals, while another, Americans for a Conservative Direction appeals to the right.
Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk, dropped out of FWD.us when he learned about the ad campaign, saying, “I agreed to support Fwd.us because there is a genuine need to reform immigration. However, this should not be done at the expense of other important causes.”
But Mayer is staying loyal to FWD.us. So is Jim Breyer, her former colleague on the Walmart Board of Directors and a billionaire investor who is a Silicon Valley legend in his own right.
It’s not clear whether Mayer’s entanglement with FWD.us and the increasingly public criticism over her role at Walmart will have a negative impact on Yahoo! But, given that Yahoo! already has plenty of problems, industry watchers may begin to ask why Mayer would do anything that might unnecessarily damage her image, which is a valuable asset for the company.