In a move that some Silicon Valley insiders had anticipated might happen, Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly has announced his exploratory bid for the elected post as attorney general of California.
"Over the past year, many people I respect have asked me to run for California Attorney General in 2010. Today, after much consideration, I am announcing that I've launched a committee to further explore the race," Kelly, who is a Democrat, said in a statement. "As the next Attorney General of California, I would utilize my experience to protect California consumers, maintain an open and accountable government, and guarantee an effective legal system."
Kelly's background is in politics. In a video on his Web site, he explains that he got his start as a staffer on Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign and then at the White House, where he focused on establishing public service programs like AmeriCorps. Rumors that he was looking into a run for attorney general began to swirl late last year.
In his campaign, Kelly has indicated that he will run on a platform of high-tech innovation and accountability, particularly in the wake of economic decline and uncertainty.
"(At Facebook) I have dealt first-hand with the complex legal challenges and privacy issues that effect California businesses and consumers," Kelly explained in the video. "We need a strong consumer protection advocate as California's chief law enforcement officer, defending people against unfair practices and schemes. As California faces a budget deficit of more than $41 billion, rising home foreclosure rates, and an uncertain economic future, it is imperative that we prevent consumer fraud and protect California residents from scam artists offering once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for home ownership, phony foreclosure avoidance scams, and any financial fraud."
Among the other issues he mentioned were online safety and privacy for both adults and children, and tech-savvy improvements to law enforcement and border patrol.
Facebook said in a statement that Kelly is not leaving his post to run for attorney general, at least not yet.
"Chris Kelly is a valued member of the Facebook Team and has been for the past several years," the statement read. "Chris is currently exploring a possible run for California Attorney General on his own time and in compliance with all applicable Facebook policies. If, over the next few months, Chris decides to devote himself full-time to campaign, he's indicated that he will take time off or a leave of absence to do so."
As an executive at a social network with over 200 million members that has become a Silicon Valley success stories, Kelly has credibility as a digital-age candidate. Yet under Kelly's watch, Facebook went through a number of embarrassing privacy flubs, most notably the launch of its Beacon advertising program--which some critics charged as intrusive.
Facebook was also at the center of a legal back-and-forth with several states' lawmakers about whether it was doing enough to keep its members safe from known sex offenders. That, however, appears to have ended in agreement and cooperation.
Kelly won't be the only Silicon Valley type running for statewide office. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, a Republican, is running for governor. San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who has appealed to the Valley set with green-tech initiatives and "Second Life" interviews, has also launched an exploratory bid for governor. The state's elections are next fall.
California's current attorney general is Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
This post was expanded at 1:35 p.m. PT.