In the few years since he started Facebook and built it into the world’s largest social network, tech billionaire Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t shown much interest in national politics. So it’s interesting to learn that he’s hosting a Feb. 13 campaign fundraiser at his Palo Alto home for Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey who’s widely believed to have aspirations for the presidency in 2016.
The event, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, is apparently Zuckerberg’s first big step into political fundraising, although he’s met with Barack Obama when the president visited Silicon Valley. A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed the event and said Thursday that Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, came to know Christie through their interest in education reform, when the couple donated $100 million to improve schools in the struggling city of Newark.
“Mark and Priscilla have worked closely with Governor Christie on education reform in the Newark school system,” the spokeswoman said. “They admire his leadership on education reform and other issues and look forward to continuing their important work together on behalf of Newark’s school children. Mark and Priscilla are happy to host him at their home to support his re-election.”
(Worth noting: Zuckerberg’s efforts in Newark have also been closely tied with the city’s mayor, Cory Booker, a Democrat who also – like Christie – has higher political aspirations.)
It’s not unusual for a tech CEO to host a political fundraiser; Silicon Valley has long been known as a political cash machine for national candidates. Bill Clinton and Al Gore both made frequent stops here, back during the original dot-com boom, and former Symantec CEO John Thompson hosted Barack Obama before his 2008 campaign. Republicans aren’t exactly strangers, either: Hewlett-Packard’s Meg Whitman held a fundraiser for her old pal Mitt Romney last year. But many view the valley as leaning Democratic.
With his vast wealth and social connections, the 28-year-old Zuckerberg could be an influential figure in electoral campaigns, if he so desired. But it’s unclear just how political, or how partisan, he is.
Zuckerberg hasn’t declared a preference for any party, according to Santa Clara County voter registration records. And the only contributions he made in the last election cycle were two donations of $5,000 each to Facebook’s own PAC, according to the campaign finance website OpenSecrets.org.
Records on that site show Facebook’s PAC has supported Republicans and Democrats almost evenly (with 53 percent of its $267,500 in contributions going to GOP candidates and 47 percent to Democrats). But individual Facebook employees gave $89,670 to Obama and only $19,750 to Romney.
(AP photo: Christie, Zuckerberg, Booker)