Tag Archives: President Obama

Those high-rolling bundled Asian Americans at the San Jose Obama brunch meeting were typically Asian: shy, quiet, and reserved

Maybe they were saving their encounter for their memoirs?

Or maybe they will be posting later on their Facebook pages?

The 20 or so who paid $35,000 (not $40,000 as was originally reported) to meet with Obama talked to just one reporter at the end of the event, the SF Chronicle’s Joe Garafoli.

Though it was a closed press event, apparently there was no condition placed to not talk to the media. The meeting members  just chose not to as if they were protecting corporate secrets. The only one to talk was Vinod Bhardwagm the founder of a firm called Kalpana. He told the Chronicle he asked Obama a question about the constitution and how the founders would have viewed how the document is used. 

Can you say “softball.”

What bothers me is this was billed as a high-level meeting of Asian Americans with the president. As an Asian American, wouldn’t you want to know or share in this opportunity to have this kind of access to the president in order to let him know what the Asian American community really wants and needs? 

That would be a high-minded use of the president’s time.

Instead, it was just a vanity brunch with Obama,  where the people attending didn’t want to do much showing off afterwards.

The whole closed nature of the event just felt unseemly to me. But I suppose in an era of SuperPACs and Citizens United, the whole idea behind bundling to get around individual donor limits (usually $2,500) in order to offer facetime with the president  seems like just a small hole in our democracy.

But it’s still a hole.

See the original version of my post on sfgate.com and at www.aaldef.org/blog

Bundling for Democracy and your Eggs Obama

(The original version of this was on the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund blog).

That  off-again, on-again morning meeting in San Jose between President Obama and a roundtable of Asian American business leaders represents the stark undemocratic reality of today’s politics.

Not only is it closed to the media, but the participants’ names are part of an exclusive list that haven’t been readily disclosed. Are they embarrassed to be one of 20 or so to pay $40,000 for the privilege of a private audience with the president? Unlikely.

Still, $40,000 for some grub and gab with the president?  If you’re on a Grand Slam breakfast budget, you’re out of luck.  (Of course, at $40k, I’m assuming with the president you get a meal.)

I figured there’s at least one person I could ask who would know the details of this elite “roundtable.” That would have to be Shefali Razdan Duggal, a 40-year-old,  Indian-born, self-employed San Franciscan who has become a big bucks go-to person for Obama in Northern California.

Naturally, she deferred to the official press team of the president.  But Shefali’s definitely high up in the campaign to know what’s going on since she’s  become what is known as a top “bundler.”

Given that the individual limit to federal campaigns is generally $2,500, people who want to get around that low ceiling, like say give $40,000 for some Eggs Obama, just simply funnel the money directly to a person like Shefali.

She becomes the ribbon and bow around the checks that are then delivered to the campaign as “bundled.”  

Compared to a Super PAC, it may seem like a small hole in the system. Nevertheless, it’s still a way to get around limits and funnel large amounts of money legally.

For 2012, Shefali has become one of the top Asian American bundlers  for Obama in the nation. Earlier this year, the Obama campaign disclosed to the Federal Electon Committee that she was responsible for between  $200,000-$500,000 in bundled contributions, with her own personal lifetime contributions at $122,177. (All the numbers come from the campaign finance watchdog, opensecrets.org).

And that’s a moderate amount among the 532 bundlers in 33 states who have raised about $106.4 million for Obama and the DNC this election year.

Among Asian American Obama bundlers is Los Angeles-based Brian Lee, the LegalZoom entrepreneur who has given $299,800 to the Obama campaign.

But it’s the number of Asian Indian bundlers that seems to be more impressive. The list includes among others, the self-help guru, Deepak Chopra ($197,000) and New York’s Deven Parekh of Insight Venture Partners ($226,100).

Asian Indians are actually the No.3  Asian American ethnic group after the Chinese and Filipinos. And yet when it comes to giving money, Indian Americans seem well represented.

I certainly didn’t see many Chinese or Filipino names on Obama’s bundlers list.  Maybe the Chinese are still reeling over the donation scandals during the Clinton years.

Being a bundler is definitely legit and has its advantages. While everyone denies there’s a quid pro quo, in politics, every penny matters—especially if you want something.

In the 2008 campaign, Hillsborough’s John Roos was a big bundler for Obama while at  the law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. And though his own personal contribution is on the books at a relatively modest $41,600, I’m sure it was mere coincidence that Roos, a Lowell High alum  was ultimately tabbed by Obama to serve as ambassador to Japan.

So my guess is the Asian American leaders at this somewhat secret “Roundtable”  meeting are likely to be made up of primarily Indian American entrepreneurs and businessmen who see nothing wrong with giving $40,000 for a little face time with the president to discuss such things as the flow of highly educated workers through immigration and special visas to work in their businesses. In other words, they’ll talk about all their special issues.

This would ordinarily be seen as a form of  “lobbying,” but since there are few things lower in the likeability scale than “lobbyist,” why impugn these wealthy private Asian American “roundtable-ists”?

Indeed, lobbyists are so disliked, Federal law requires that a campaign disclose only the bundling activity—of lobbyists.

That’s why President Obama and the Democrats, having disclosed all 532 bundlers, are actually much more open and go above and beyond the law on this point than the GOP.

Maybe bundling isn’t so bad, say compared to the current campaign finance villains, the Super-PACs.

Still, while the Obama has been upfront about his bundlers, the GOP has only disclosed that 22 registered lobbyists have bundled a measly $2.9 million.

Romney’s other bundlers?  No one knows how much has been raised by how many. Romney hasn’t disclosed them. Maybe he should. Now.

But this is how our democracy works today. There are lots of dark places where photo-ops give way to cash-ops.

And neither you nor I can have breakfast with the president in a closed-door roundtable.

Actually, I thought it would be nice if President Obama capped off Asian Pacific American Heritage Month with a nice fitting visit into the community to eat some veggie pork buns or something.

He could have visited Asian Health Services in Oakland and witnessed all the language issues they work around to provide health care to those who need it most. Or he could have visited Asian Americans for Community Involvement in San Jose.

But when the president is in campaign mode, there’s little time in democracy for the unbundled.

Obama’s new middle on same-sex marriage

He knew it all along.

The New York Times reports it was on Tuesday morning before leaving for a speech in Albany, New York, that it was decided the president would finally come out in support of same-sex marriage on Wednesday.

So later on Tuesday night, in his speech at Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies dinner in D.C, he knew that the bombshell was coming.

What a poker face Obama showed before his “ohana.”

I knew same-sex marriage was on the radar since Vice President Biden’s unbridled support of it on Sunday. But I wasn’t expecting Obama to say anything on an election night when politicians’ “gay-dar” tends to work overtime.

My ears, however, were perked for anything on affirmative action, a new wedge issue in the Asian American community with the Supreme Court expecting to rule on the Texas case this summer. It’s a big deal for minority groups.

When addressing the Asian American group, the president dropped hints about his support for affirmative action without saying it. Very political.  But it was the right thing to say to an organization dedicated to empowerment and civil rights of an often ignored and under-represented minority.

Still, he said nothing about topic A, gay marriage.

Now that we know he knew he was going to evolve on gay marriage the very next day, I feel cheated. He could have given us a little more of a preview.

But not even a wink. He was totally in the closet.

Here’s the transcript from the APAICS dinner and what he told Asian Americans:

“So some of the things that matter to this community are things that matter to every community, like making sure that a woman earns an equal day’s pay for an equal day’s work.  (Applause.)  Or ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” so that nobody has to hide who they love to serve the country they love.  (Applause.)  Or enacting education reform so that every child has access to good schools and higher education.  (Applause.)  Or caring for our veterans because it’s our duty to serve them as well as they have served us.  (Applause.)”

He touched on it a bit with the “gays in the military” reference. But he didn’t go all the way.

At every applause note, he could have said, “Or making sure that any two human beings regardless of their gender had a right to marry one another. ”

That certainly matters to Asian Americans, as well as all Americans.  Asian Americans, especially those in Hawaii and California, have long been at the forefront of the same-sex marriage battle. (I’ve written about it a number of times over the years).

I guess the timing just wasn’t right to show his hand to Asian Americans. Maybe the president was still evolving. I suppose he could have changed his mind right up to the last moment.

But he’s just in time for today’s Clooney event in Hollywood where the president should be closer to fully evolved, and gay rights supporters are ready to open up their pocket books.

Politically, the barometer must have indicated the time is right.  

If conservative Republicans think they win this issue, great. It seems to be a tremendous non-issue.

Gays are an integral part of our society. Discrimination against them makes no sense. To be against gay marriage in today’s world is just illogical. (Asian Americans know how troubling it is when laws get in the way of love. For years, my father was unable to intermarry in the ‘20s because of anti-miscegenation laws)

Even national polls show a majority in favor of same-sex marriage.

At the same time, states always vote the idea down (North Carolina being the most recent).

Considering that history shows Obama is too political and too moderate to be all that daring, maybe what we have here is simply Obama carving out the new middle ground.

The historic new middle?

Conscience, family talk, and Joe Biden may have forced him to move, but the evolving is still happening.

Any movement by a president toward equality, justice and progress is a good thing.

So for now, activists must settle for this new fence point: being for same-sex, but letting the states decide.

It’s Obama’s new middle for the national moderates.

Now will someone just fix the non-tech economy?

Barack Obama on the “Asian American” umbrella term

Umbrellas are for Mai-Tais, generally.

But politically, it’s all about creating a catch-all  phrase that would encompass all of Asian America.

It’s not easy. At last night’s APAICS dinner in Washington,the president helped the most political Asian Americans on the planet figure out what we need to do to make sure the umbrella still works 

for all of us.

Check out my blog post on the Asian American Legal Defense and

Education Fund blog.