How Facebook’s Political Donations Could Make It The Next Mozilla

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Facebook shareholders called out the social network for backing politicians whose positions on public policy issues, such as Internet freedom, LGBT rights, and the environment, don’t align with Facebook’s image, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

As recently as last year, Facebook contributed to three politicians who supported the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act, policies that threatened free speech online, according to the filing. Forty-one percent of Facebook’s PAC contributions also went to politicians who voted against LGBT rights, with another third going toward candidates pushing the deregulation of greenhouse gas emissions and striking down the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.

The company’s political contributions are out of sync with Facebook’s core values, NorthStar Asset Management, which owns over 50,000 shares of the company, said in the filings. NorthStar CEO Julie Goodridge noted that unlike Apple, IBM, and Google, Facebook has no public political contributions policy, which would make the company’s political agenda more transparent to shareholders. Because of that, NorthStar is pushing other shareholders to make Facebook fall in line with Apple and Google and give shareholders quarterly reports detailing all of the company’s donations.

“Facebook has made political contributions that support politicians whose voting records directly contrast the company’s stated public policy priorities, and may undermine the company’s business model,” the filing stated.

Facebook argued it already has enough oversight of its political activities and that any additional reporting to shareholders would be “unnecessary.” But the shareholders contend that, if continued, Facebook’s “incongruent contributions” could alienate customers, advertisers and ultimately harm the company’s reputation and value.

The shareholders’ concerns come on the heels of Mozilla’s recent controversial CEO hire. NorthStar believes Facebook could suffer similar unrest as a result of these conflicting political donations. Mozilla caught flack for appointing Brendan Eich, who resigned last week after pressure mounted over his past donations to a California campaign aimed at banning same-sex marriage. While his donations were personal and not on behalf of Mozilla, Eich’s apparent anti-marriage equality stance resulted in boycotts and protests of the company as a whole.

The contributions paint a stark contrast to Facebook’s public image as a crusader for equal rights, free speech and renewable energy. The social network is a champion of widespread Internet access, free from censorship and government surveillance. The company announced plans to deliver Internet access via drones. Facebook also has been on the forefront of LGBT rights, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg marched in San Francisco’s Gay Pride Parade in 2013. The website also recently expanding its gender identity options in an effort to be more inclusive of trans people. Greenpeace recently lauded Facebook for its strides in making more environmentally friendly data centers that use renewable energy sources.

Though shareholders are only now raising concerns, Facebook has a history of quietly funding causes that conflict with its public face. Last year, two tech leaders dropped out of Zuckerberg’s immigration reform advocacy group, FWD.us, after it bankrolled two ads in support of the Keystone XL pipeline. And despite its outward commitment to renewable energy sources, the company donated $25,000 to a climate-denier lobbying group. Facebook has also maintained its membership in the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which dozens of major companies dropped after controversy over the group’s involvement in some of the nation’s most severe laws on immigration, Stand Your Ground, and prisons.