Thursday, August 11, 2011 Indian American candidates raise big money for campaigns

Indian American pols rake in cash

Indian American candidates are emerging as a fundraising force in the 2012 campaign season, raking in cash from a well-heeled and tight-knit community seeking to expand its political influence.

While Indian Americans have established themselves in a wide range of professional fields over the last half-century, matching that success in politics has proved elusive. Just two Indian-Americans have been elected to Congress: Dalip Singh Saud, a California Democrat who served in the House from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, and now-Louisiana GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal, who served from 2004 to 2007.

The current crop of prolific Indian-American cash-raisers include congressional hopefuls like Ami Bera, a California physician; Raja Krishnamoorthi, a former Illinois deputy state treasurer, and 24-year-old Ricky Gill, a University of California at Berkeley law student who’s running for a San Joaquin County-area House seat and who hauled in $446,000 during the second quarter.

“Indian Americans been very successful in business, technology, medicine and education, but they don’t see parallel success in Washington,” said Krishnamoorthi, whose $400,000-plus second-quarter fundraising report included a long list of Indian American donors. “There are a lot of folks who want to see this mission succeed – to see more Indian Americans elected to Congress.”

Indian Americans had a taste of success in 2010, when South Carolina Republican Nikki Haley, who is of Sikh heritage, became the second Indian American governor in U.S. history; and California Democrat Kamala Harris, who is half Indian, was elected state attorney general. But it was also a year of disappointment. Each of the six Indian Americans waging congressional campaigns – a roster that included Pennsylvania Democrat Manan Trivedi and Kansas Democrat Raj Goyle – fell short. New York Democrat Reshma Saujani, the first Indian American woman to run for Congress, lost big in a primary against Rep. Carolyn Maloney.

Kathy Kulkarni, president of the Indian American Leadership Initiative, said there has been a forceful early push among Indian American donors to throw their financial backing to the crop of 2012 contenders.

“I think there is a lot of excitement on the Democratic and Republican sides because we are underrepresented in Congress,” she said. “There is a desire that’s stronger than ever to see more Indian representation, and it’s growing.”

The donor push to some extent reflects the natural progression of a community that has gradually been expanding its reach into American society and that is seeking a more prominent place in public life.

“It’s a natural evolution with Indian American immigrants to this country. Once you’ve been here for a generation or more, you tend to get more involved with public life here,” said Anil Mammen, a veteran
Democratic consultant and former top staffer at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “This is not what I saw when I came to Washington in the 1980s. There weren’t Indians on the Hill. There weren’t Indians running for Congress.”
“I’m a big believer that our community is evolving politically,” said Anurag Varma, a Washington-based attorney at Patton Boggs, where he specializes in India-related public policy issues. “The pieces have really started to come together.”

In establishing their campaigns, the candidates are benefiting from a built-in base of donors who are invested in their political fortunes. It’s a donor network, those involved with the campaigns explain, that allows Indian American contenders to rack up impressive fundraising hauls early in their efforts.

“Our family of relatives tends to be pretty large,” said Raghu Devaguptapu, a media consultant and former political director for the Democratic Governors Association and Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “The first place Indian-Americans go to when they run for office is friends and family.”

Bera, who has raised over $545,000 this year and is one of the top-grossing Democratic candidates in the country, came to to Washington last week to hold a fundraiser at Eden, a downtown bar near the White House. Many of those in attendance were Indian American political professionals who supported him in his unsuccessful 2010 race and who were there to cut him a check ahead of his looming rematch against GOP Rep. Dan Lungren.

Like his previous run, Bera has started out by dipping heavily into the pool of Indian American donors, taking in contributions from physicians, engineers and academics. He plans to expand his contributor base outward in the months to come, taking in a broader swath of the electorate.

“The real driving force here is a sense of pride,” Bera said after the Washington event, explaining that Indian Americans see campaigning for Congress as going “one step further and running for the American dream.”
Gill has taken a similar approach, launching his campaign with an infusion of cash from a large number of Indian Americans – many of them farmers from California’s Central Valley area.

For all the excitement surrounding the slate of 2012 candidates, Indian American activists believe they face ethnic barriers and insist their opponents are all too willing to make their heritage an issue. Last year, Goyle’s campaign cried foul after his opponent, now-GOP Rep. Mike Pompeo, erected an electronic billboard urging voters to “Vote American, Vote Pompeo.” Two years earlier, the campaign for Ashwin Madia, an unsuccessful Minnesota Democratic congressional candidate, complained after the National Republican Congressional Committee aired an attack TV ad that it argued darkened the color of Madia’s skin.

“Ethnicity is still a factor, and it’s a factor that is taken into account in campaign strategy,” said Kulkarni. “I think it’s something that needs to be overcome.”

There’s also recognition among those in the Indian American community that funneling contributions will only get them so far. For all the enthusiasm about electing one of their contenders to Congress, that goal has mostly remained just out of reach.

“At some point you have to win,” said Shekar Narasimhan, a prominent, Virginia-based financial adviser and Democratic donor. “I hope we can get a win in 2012.”

Read more:

No comments:

Post a Comment