Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, could be running for president as he reportedly hired former Hillary Clinton advisor, Joel Benenson, who was a significant strategist to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Over the last few months, Zuckerberg has toured states across the US as part of his is “personal challenge” for 2017 where he meets and talks to people in every state, a clear sign he is probably running for office.
It was also reported by Politico on Wednesday that the Democratic pollster’s Benenson Strategy Group, will be the ones who will do the research for Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan’s philanthropy, The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
“As a philanthropic organization focused on a number of substantive issues including science, education, housing and criminal justice reform, any research efforts we undertake is to support that work,” a CZI spokesperson said in a statement.
Benenson’s company, Benenson Strategy Group, will be conducting research for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the couple’s philanthropy. The organization — whose mission statement, according to its website, is “advancing human potential and promoting equality” — is endowed with the couple’s Facebook fortune.
Bringing on Benenson is the latest sign that they’re pushing their philanthropic work more heavily into the political and policy world.
In January, the couple hired David Plouffe, campaign manager for Obama’s 2008 presidential run, as president of policy and advocacy. Plouffe had previously worked at Uber. Ken Mehlman, who ran President George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, also sits on the board.
And earlier this year, the couple also brought on Amy Dudley, a former communications adviser to Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine.
Benenson’s involvement in the group gives them access to someone who was one of the top lieutenants of Clinton’s doomed campaign and Obama’s longtime pollster, just as speculation about Zuckerberg’s political ambitions is mounting.
Benenson did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative said: “As a philanthropic organization focused on a number of substantive issues including science, education, housing, and criminal justice reform, any research efforts we undertake is to support that work.”
Even though he has said he has no interest in running for office, Zuckerberg’s name — along with just about every other billionaire or elected official with half the name recognition of a second-tier Donald Trump adviser — has been floated as a potential 2020 presidential candidate.
Zuckerberg, 33, stirred the speculation in June when he posted pictures of his road trip through Iowa, the first state to caucus in the primaries, as part of the tech entrepreneur’s yearlong project to visit every U.S. state. He has also toured a Ford assembly plant outside Detroit, a key city in the critical Rust Belt state that Clinton lost to Trump; and Dayton, Ohio, the state long considered an election bellwether.
“Some of you have asked if this challenge means I’m running for public office,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page last May. “I’m not.”
Even before his is-he-or-isn’t-he road trip, Zuckerberg had shown an interest in politics and social issues. In 2010, he announced during an appearance on “Oprah” that he was donating $100 million to help fix the Newark City public school system in New Jersey. The influx of Facebook cash, however, didn’t generate the desired results, and the gift became a nationally recognized failure of good intentions.
But the hiring of Benenson is sure to fuel speculation that Zuckerberg is getting more serious about how he plays in the political and policy worlds.
As part of his year-long tour, Trump visited Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and other swing states. He has also continued to weigh in on key political issues including healthcare, immigration and climate change among other social issues.Amid Zuckerberg’s ongoing tour of the US, a recent poll by Democratic firm PublicPolicyPolling revealed that he would tie with President Donald Trump in a theoretical 2020 election race with both at 40%.
But John Raines, head of political risk at IHS Markit, tells Newsweek that the hiring of Benenson was not conclusive evidence of Zuckerberg’s plans.
“Bloomberg did the same thing, and we saw very little come out of that,” Raines says.
“A lot of the time business leaders are attracted to the idea [of running for office]. They have made it to the pinnacle of business, and they want to make it to the pinnacle of politics as well, like Trump,” he says.
“However, they often find that political reality is far more difficult than political aspiration. Some of them do it; some of them don’t. He could also be seeing what the reaction is to the possibility of him running. Does he start to see people clamor for a run or start to see people saying he’s a joke and ‘What are you doing?’ And sometimes it’s a whiff of reality,” Raines says.
Sources: Newsweek, Politico, and Neon Nettle