Immigrant ‘Uncles and Aunties’ Help Indian American Candidates

Shira Toeplitz, CQ-Roll Call, October 20, 2009

On the last day of the third quarter, Democrat Manan Trivedi hosted a fundraiser for friends and family–his extended network of “Uncles and Aunties”–that raised $10,000 in two hours at the Lantern Lodge, an Indian-American-owned restaurant and hotel in southeastern Pennsylvania.

As one of the higher-profile Indian-American candidates running for Congress next year, Trivedi estimates that 20 percent to 25 percent of the $127,500 he raised in the first three weeks of his campaign for Pennsylvania’s 6th District seat came from his connections to the Indian-American community. And he said he’s only begun to tap into the affluent ethnic network, which has recently become fertile fundraising ground.

Fellow physician and Indian-American candidate Ami Bera raised more than $600,000 in five months for his campaign as a Democratic hopeful in California, while Kansas state Rep. Raj Goyle, also a Democrat, raised $403,000 in the past three months for his open-seat bid. According to Bhavna Pandit, a Democratic fundraiser who specializes in the Indian-American community, the influx of Indian-American candidates this cycle is unprecedented.

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Bera, who is running in the primary for the opportunity to face Rep. Dan Lungren , R-Calif., estimated that about 50 percent to 60 percent of his money came from Indian Americans.

“The Indian-American community has responded overwhelmingly in a way that I don’t think they’ve responded previously,” Bera said. {snip}

The goal for politically active Indian-Americans has been to elect one of their own to Congress ever since now-Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal , a Republican, left the House in 2008.

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“Over the last 10 years, Indian Americans have begun to become more politically engaged in the life of the nation now that they’ve achieved a certain degree of economic success,” said Anil Mammen, a Democrat who runs a political consulting firm, the Mammen Group.

“You wouldn’t have had political consultants in my parents’ generation,” said Mammen, a son of Indian immigrants. “They just didn’t have that cultural connection with this country.”

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“In the Indian-American community, you have to have another person ask on your behalf in order to be successful,” Barve said. “Because Indians don’t want to give their money to anybody. We’re cheap.”

Indian-American candidates typically hit up their parents’ generation–otherwise known as the “Uncle and Auntie” generation of well-educated and affluent immigrants–when they are on the hunt for donors.

And while most politicians dial for dollars on the phone, Indian-American candidates sometimes make their appeals at the home of an Indian-American through an intermediary trusted in the community.

Devaguptapu, a first-generation Indian-American, said his community is especially powerful for candidates because it tends to be large but close-knit. Because India is such a big and diverse country, he said it’s easier to have a larger community here in the states because immigrants tend to worry less about regionalism.

“I guess the benefit of the Indian-American community is you tend to have larger friends and family units,” Devaguptapu said. {snip}

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