Dipping his toe in political waters, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is planning to host a campaign fundraiser for New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie next month at his Palo Alto home.

The evening event is the latest signal that Zuckerberg, a 28-year-old multibillionaire, wants to have an impact outside the tech sphere, according to political experts who noted Thursday that the Facebook co-founder recently donated $500 million to support health- and education-related nonprofits.

It's also a major coup for Christie -- a moderate Republican with presidential aspirations -- since the CEO of the world's biggest social network will be lending the governor some tech cachet and introducing him to Zuckerberg's own personal network of wealthy Silicon Valley friends.

"These can be some pretty hefty fundraisers," said Larry Gerston, a San Jose State political science professor who pointed out that national politicians have been making campaign pilgrimages to Silicon Valley since before the dot-com boom. Gerston added that it's not uncommon for tech entrepreneurs to start out focused on building their own companies and later seek a broader stage.

With a sizable personal fortune and worldwide prominence, experts say Zuckerberg could wield significant influence in the political arena. While Facebook stumbled in the stock market last year, Zuckerberg and the company are viewed as symbols of cutting-edge Internet culture. But it's unclear just how political, or how partisan, he wants to be.

Zuckerberg hasn't declared a preference for any political party, according to Santa Clara County voter registration records. He isn't known for speaking out on political issues. And the only contributions he made in the last federal election were two donations of $5,000 each to Facebook's corporate PAC, which has given money almost equally to Democratic and Republican candidates, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The Feb. 13 Christie event is apparently Zuckerberg's first foray into political fundraising. Tickets are reportedly $3,800 a person, the maximum allowed under New Jersey law. But it's not his first brush with a prominent politician: Zuckerberg has met twice with Barack Obama during presidential visits to Silicon Valley, including a "town hall" meeting at Facebook that gave Obama a prominent forum to meet with young techies.

A Facebook spokeswoman said Thursday that Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, came to know Christie through their interest in education, after donating $100 million two years ago to improve schools in the struggling city of Newark, N.J.

"Mark and Priscilla have worked closely with Governor Christie on education reform in the Newark school system," spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg said in a statement. "They admire his leadership on education reform and other issues and look forward to continuing their important work together on behalf of Newark's school children. Mark and Priscilla are happy to host him at their home to support his re-election."

Zuckerberg's efforts in Newark have also been closely tied with Cory Booker, the city's ambitious Democratic mayor. Booker recently announced he won't run against Christie for New Jersey's governorship and may seek a U.S. Senate seat instead. Christie, while seeking re-election this year, is expected to run for the White House in 2016.

It's not unusual for Silicon Valley figures to host national candidates. Bill Clinton and Al Gore both made frequent fundraising stops in Silicon Valley. Former Symantec CEO John Thompson helped introduce Obama to the valley before his 2008 campaign. On the Republican side, Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ) Meg Whitman held a fundraiser for Mitt Romney last year.

"In addition to the money, support from Silicon Valley sends a very strong, symbolic message about a candidate's vision for the future," said Dan Schnur, a veteran GOP operative who's worked closely with the tech industry and now heads the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

In decades past, Schnur said, an endorsement from Bill Gates or Steve Jobs would have been "the gold standard." Today, he said a candidate would be "doing cartwheels" over an endorsement from Zuckerberg.

Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey.