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Tech firms take lead in lobbying on immigration

Eric Lipton and Somini Sengupta (via NYT/ AFR) | May 6, 2013
The television advertisement that hit the air waves in Florida last month featured the Republican Party's rising star, Senator Marco Rubio, boasting about his get tough plan for border security.

Tech firms take lead in lobbying on immigration

Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley figures are getting involved more aggressively in behind-the-scenes politics Photo: Reuters

 

The television advertisement that hit the air waves in Florida last month featured the Republican Party's rising star, Senator Marco Rubio, boasting about his get tough plan for border security.

But most viewers who watched the commercial, sponsored by a new group that calls itself Americans for a Conservative Direction, may be surprised to learn who bankrolled it: senior executives from Silicon Valley like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, who run companies where the top employees donate mostly to Democrats.

The advertising blitz reflects the sophisticated lobbying campaign being waged by these technology companies and their executives.

They have managed to secure much of what they want in the landmark immigration bill now pending in Congress, provisions that would allow them to fill thousands of job vacancies with foreign-born engineers. At the same time, they have openly encouraged lawmakers to make it harder for consulting companies in India and elsewhere to provide foreign workers temporarily to the United States.

 

EXTRAORDINARY POLITICAL ACCESS

Those deals were worked out through what Senate negotiators acknowledged was extraordinary access by American technology companies to staff members who drafted the bill. The companies often learned about detailed provisions even before all the members of the so-called Gang of Eight senators who worked out the package were informed.

"We are very pleased with the progress and happy with what's in the bill," said Peter J Muller, a former House aide who now works as the director of government relations at Intel. "It addresses many of the issues we've been advocating for for years."

Now, along with other industry heavyweights, including the US Chamber of Commerce, the technology companies are trying to make sure the law gets passed - which explains the political-style television advertising campaign, sponsored by a group that has revealed no details about how much money it gets from its individual supporters.

The industry also hopes to get more from the deal by working to remove some regulatory restrictions in the proposal, including on hiring foreign workers and firing Americans.

Silicon Valley was once politically aloof before realising in recent years that its future profits depended in part on battles in Washington. Its effort to influence immigration legislation is one of its most sophisticated.

 

LITTLE OPPOSITION

The technology industry "understands there's probably not a tremendous amount of resistance to their part of the bill", Rubio said in an interview last week, saying he welcomed the industry support. "But their future and getting the reform passed is tied to the overall bill."

 

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