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The political chief at Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropy is stepping down

Mike Troncoso is a former top aide to Kamala Harris, so this move is stirring speculation about a move to the White House.

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg speak with another person in front of a sign reading, “Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.” Courtesy of The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

The political chief of Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropy is leaving his post, Recode has learned, which is stirring some speculation that he could take on a new role with his former boss, Kamala Harris.

Mike Troncoso, once a top aide to Harris, is stepping down from his position as the head of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Justice and Opportunity Initiatives (JOI), CZI confirmed to Recode. The leader of JOI is one of the top positions at the organization that Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, founded in 2015. As the head of JOI, Troncoso oversaw one of Silicon Valley’s biggest political advocacy operations that has spent hundreds of millions of dollars pushing for immigration reform, changes to the criminal justice system, and more affordable housing.

The departure is notable for two reasons: Zuckerberg’s political team at his philanthropy has had to navigate tricky tensions that are rooted in political challenges in Zuckerberg’s day job at Facebook, challenges that will only intensify under Joe Biden. And secondly, the timing of Troncoso’s departure raises the possibility that he could be in line for a senior position staffing with Harris, which would serve as another possible link between the Biden administration and Zuckerberg, who is facing antitrust scrutiny and a skeptical public.

Troncoso served as chief counsel to Harris when she was California’s attorney general. He oversaw a major investigation into the state’s banking actions during the financial crisis, one of her landmark accomplishments, and he later co-chaired her transition team when she was elected to the Senate. Harris name-checks Troncoso in her autobiography’s acknowledgments.

Troncoso had recently told people he works with at CZI that he did not currently have plans to join the administration, according to sources, but that no decision had been made. CZI said that Troncoso planned to return to public service and is relocating with his family to the East Coast.

Harris has only unveiled the names of a few of her top aides. The Biden-Harris transition team didn’t return a request for comment.

Troncoso succeeded David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s longtime political adviser, in the role overseeing CZI’s JOI programming. While Troncoso was a lower-profile figure, he oversaw a number of high-profile political projects, such as the $10 million that CZI spent on its ultimately unsuccessful attempt to add billions to California’s budget, CZI’s most expensive electoral play yet. Troncoso originally oversaw CZI’s work on criminal justice reform, and CZI eventually was spending about $40 million a year on that effort, becoming one of the area’s largest philanthropic funders.

He had to navigate making these plays at a time when CZI’s co-founder, Zuckerberg, and the source of its wealth, Facebook, grew to become a greater liability. Some of that antagonism has ricocheted onto Zuckerberg’s philanthropy, even though CZI is entirely distinct from Facebook. Some people who have worked at CZI have alleged that its political work is overly sensitive to what could impact Facebook, and a former JOI employee last month publicly filed a discrimination complaint against the organization, claiming in part that Troncoso’s team did not center racial equity enough in its political programming. CZI has said that it investigated these claims and they are “unsubstantiated.”

Troncoso will be succeeded at least in the interim by Osi Imeokparia, who comes from a more technical background and oversaw the JOI team’s product development.

Like other political advocacy shops, CZI will probably have to rethink some of its programming under a new president and in a new political climate, especially its work on federal immigration reform. CZI recently released an internal report card of sorts on its five-year anniversary this month, which disclosed that it had spent $436 million on its JOI work during that time.

As part of that review, CZI also said it would spend $500 million over the next five years on initiatives focused on racial equity, something that Zuckerberg critics say he has fumbled at Facebook.

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