- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 26, 2009

The popular online social-networking site Facebook is making its first foray into politics.

The company gave $10,000 last month to a group that raises money to help elect Republican state attorney general candidates, according to a recent Internal Revenue Service filing by the Republican State Leadership Committee. Facebook said it also gave $10,000 to the Democratic Attorneys General Association.

The donations come after agreements that Facebook reached with attorneys general across the U.S. on online safety issues in recent years.

Facebook made an agreement last year with attorneys general in 49 states and the District to help protect children from online predators and ensure that the company cuts ties with pornographic Web sites. The company reached a similar agreement with New York in 2007.

“We have been working collaboratively with state attorneys general on issues of online safety, security and privacy for years, and they’re on the front lines for these issues,” Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt said of the donations.

“Thus, we thought it appropriate to make contributions to their organizations - equal amounts” to Democratic and Republican groups, he said.

The donations also come amid speculation that the company’s chief privacy officer, Chris Kelly, is weighing a bid to run for election as California’s attorney general in 2010. The company has declined to comment on the prospect.

Mr. Schnitt said the donations were the company’s first political contributions since its 2004 founding.

Experts say it’s not surprising that a multibillion-dollar company would get involved in politics.

“These companies can and will exert their right to have a say,” said Denise Roth Barber, research director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics. “It wouldn’t be surprising if they decide to make more contributions in the future and vote with their pocketbooks.”

Though the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company hasn’t made any donations to candidates, Facebook employees personally gave nearly $65,000 combined to federal candidates during the 2007-08 election cycle.

With less than $2,000 to Republicans, the biggest donation of $28,500 came from Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Of the 51 donations given by Facebook employees during the last election cycle, all but nine went toward efforts to elect Mr. Obama.

By contrast, federal politicians and political action committees paid Facebook more than $900,000 in online advertising and other fees in 2007 and 2008, according to an analysis of FEC records compiled by Moneyline. Most of the money came from fees paid by the Obama campaign, the records show.