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Chan Zuckerberg Initiative adds political firepower

The philanthropic company started by the Facebook CEO and his wife hires David Plouffe, an Uber board member, to try to avoid political roadblocks.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is adding some political muscle.
James Martin/CNET

Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, are bringing in some political muscle to help them give away their money.

The two have vowed to give away 99 percent of their fortune over the course of their lifetimes, and in late 2015 they started the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a limited liability company for their philanthropic ambitions. On Tuesday, Zuckerberg said the company hired ex-Obama adviser and Uber board member David Plouffe to head the company's policy and advocacy efforts.

The political weight is sure to come in handy as the group faces potential roadblocks in Washington. A few of the company's lofty goals: curing all diseases in the lifetime of their daughter, Max, and pushing for personalized learning in schools.

"Advocacy has always been part of our approach," Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. "When we launched our science initiative last year, I spoke about how we need to change that our government spends 50x more treating people who are sick than finding cures so people don't get sick in the first place."

While CZI is a separate endeavor from Facebook, the announcement comes at a time when Zuckerberg and his social network are grappling with Facebook's influence in arenas, from politics to media, that weren't so obvious to the company when it was started as a website in a dorm room.

Silicon Valley has also been in the political forefront as President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office. Last month, the tech industry's most famous players -- including Zuckerberg's right hand, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg -- met the incoming leader during a high-profile summit at Trump Tower.

Zuckerberg said Tuesday that CZI is also adding Ken Mehlman, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and campaign manager for George W. Bush, to a newly formed policy advisory board.

To take the job with Zuckerberg, Plouffe is leaving his role at Uber as chief adviser, but he's staying on the company's board. He'll also remain an advisor to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

"Three years ago, I was looking for someone to help guide Uber's strategy as we launched in more cities around the globe," Kalanick said in a statement. "David impressed me with his storytelling skills, his ability to connect with people on a human level, and his incredible passion for Uber and our mission."

"I'm excited that he'll bring that passion to the world-changing efforts underway at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative," he added.

Zuckerberg said CZI will announce more members of the policy advisory board over the next few months.

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