The founder and CEO of Facebook is to host his first political fundraiser, for the popular – if controversial Republican Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie.
Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla are expected to welcome Mr Christie to an event at their home in Palo Alto, California, in February.
A Facebook spokesman said the Zuckerbergs “admire [Christie’s] leadership on education reform and other issues.”
The 28-year-old Mr Zuckerberg, who is worth an estimated $9.4bn (£5.9bn), is beginning to flex his financial muscle beyond Silicon Valley. Though he has never made a publicly disclosed political contribution, the Facebook founder and his wife are already major charitable donors. In December 2012, they made their biggest donation to date – 18 million Facebook shares, worth nearly $500m – to a Silicon Valley charitable foundation to go towards healthcare and education.
Mr Christie first met the young tech mogul in 2010, when Mr Zuckerberg donated $100m to the schools system in Newark, New Jersey. They announced the donation, along with Newark Mayor Cory Booker, on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show.
“Mark and Priscilla have worked closely with Governor Christie on education reform in the Newark school system,” Sarah Feinberg, a spokesperson for Facebook, told Buzzfeed on Thursday. “They … look forward to continuing their important work together on behalf of Newark’s schoolchildren.”
The Governor, who is running for re-election in 2013, is almost unique among leading Republicans in his ability to appeal to voters across the partisan divide. He is widely considered a front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.
Despite campaigning on behalf of Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential race, Gov. Christie praised President Obama fulsomely for his response to Superstorm Sandy, and was blamed by some Republicans for giving the Democrat an electoral boost.
Earlier this month, he rounded on congressional Republicans for their failure to pass a bill offering billions in emergency relief to New Jersey and other states affected by the storm. Recent polls show Mr Christie’s popularity booming, with approval ratings as high as 74 per cent in New Jersey.
In 2011, Facebook created its own Political Action Committee, FB PAC, which contributed more to Republicans ($65,500) than to Democrats ($53,500) in its first quarter, bucking the trend of most Silicon Valley companies, which tend to favour Democrats. New Jersey’s campaign finance laws would prevent Zuckerberg – who grew up in neighbouring New York – making a personal donation of any more than $3,800 to Christie’s electoral coffers.
Though he is friendly with Christie, like many young tech magnates the Facebook CEO is thought to be instinctively left-leaning. In 2011 his firm hosted the first “town hall” meeting of Mr Obama’s re-election campaign at its Palo Alto headquarters. Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, is a regular Democratic donor. Zuckerberg is also a signatory of the Giving Pledge, an initiative by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffett, whereby almost 100 billionaires have promised to give more than half of their wealth to charity, either before or after their deaths.
Silicon Valley Bucks: The Tech Donors
Google co-founder Sergey Brin has made donations to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and to President Obama’s campaign, but he is sceptical about the present two-party system, and in 2012 called on whoever won the presidential race to quit his party and govern as an independent.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer worked on George W Bush’s 2004 presidential re-election campaign, though he has also given money to Democrats.
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has never disclosed his political leanings in public. Those who know him personally, however, have described him as a libertarian. In 2010, he contributed $100,000 to oppose a new initiative raising state income tax on the wealthiest residents of Washington State – including himself.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is a regular donor to the DNC, who has raised almost $400,000 for Barack Obama since 2007, including $112,400 for the re-election campaign.