Yet another reason to wonder about Mark Zuckerberg’s political aspirations: His philanthropic organization, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, just hired the guys who helped elect Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
Former Obama campaign manager and Uber board member David Plouffe is joining the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as president of policy and advocacy. So is Ken Mehlman, a former George W. Bush campaign manager and Republican National Committee chairman, who will lead the group’s board.
The move, announced by Plouffe and Zuckerberg in a pair of Facebook posts, will give the former political operatives a pivotal role in shaping how the Facebook CEO and his wife, Priscilla Chan, deploy their vast fortune toward philanthropic causes. The couple set up the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative when their daughter Max was born in December 2015, pledging to donate 99% of their Facebook shares—then worth about $45 billion—to “promote equality for all children in the next generation.”
Zuckerberg stoked speculation that he might someday run for political office with his 2017 New Year’s resolution to meet someone in every US state. As TechCrunch reported last week, Zuckerberg’s current arrangement with Facebook would allow him to serve in government and retain control of the company, so long as he either retained a sufficient portion of Facebook’s capital stock or received approval from the majority of Facebook’s independent directors.
The choice to hire from both sides of the political aisle—with Plouffe and Mehlman—is notable in light of Facebook’s scandal over suppressing conservative news last May, and its controversial role in spreading fake news and fostering politically polarized echo chambers ahead of the election. “David and Ken built campaigns for different parties but have also come together to work on issues like marriage equality,” Zuckerberg said in his announcement.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which is structured as a limited liability company, does not want for audacious pursuits. Its first mandate is curing “all diseases” in Max’s lifetime, something to which the organization has committed $3 billion over the next 10 years. (The National Institutes of Health, for context, has an annual budget of more than $30 billion.) Zuckerberg and Chan are also interested in education, and using technology to facilitate social change.
Plouffe first turned his attention to Silicon Valley in August 2014, when he joined Uber to head policy and communications. Over the next year, the company pulled off a stunning political coup, pushing through legislation that legalized ride-sharing in more than 20 US states. Plouffe will remain on Uber’s board in his new role with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
“My job will be to find creative ways to lift the voices of those who want to build a better future—no matter where they live, their background or their ideology,” Plouffe wrote on Facebook today. “Curing disease, improving education through personalized learning and building technology and tools to help organizations reach their full potential are areas with wide spread support and massive potential for mobilization, great storytelling and smart policy engagement.”