WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard might not be able to compete in the money department with well-known presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, but she does lead the pack in at least one category — donations from Indian Americans.

A recent analysis of Federal Election Commission filings by AAPI Data found that Gabbard raised $237,300 from Indian Americans in the first quarter of 2019.

That was more than any other declared Democratic presidential candidate who filed an FEC report by last week’s April 15 deadline. Cory Booker, the U.S. senator from New Jersey, came in second with $131,318 from Indian American donors, according to the AAPI Data analysis.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard pulls in a lot of campaign donations from the Indian American community. Nick Grube/Civil Beat

“What stood out to me quite a bit was that 44% of all the money Indian Americans gave went to Tulsi Gabbard, which is quite a bit,” said Sono Shah, researcher at AAPI Data who crunched the numbers.

“In terms of the other ethnic groups there weren’t that many that donated that large of a portion of their money to a single candidate.”

For instance, only 26 percent of Chinese donors gave their money to Andrew Yang, who received nearly 80 percent of his Asian contributions from Chinese Americans.

Many of the other candidates, particularly the major ones, had a more diverse distribution.

AAPI Data — a demographic research project  focused on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — found that both Gabbard and Booker did well with Asians in general.

The analysis found that Booker received $394,923 from Asians while Gabbard took in $390,155, which was enough to rank them No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, among the 14 Democratic presidential candidates included in the study.

Shah warned that the statistical analysis, however, is not comprehensive and should be looked at as an estimate.

Shah used an ethnic surname methodology that’s often used in health and political science research. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau also uses a similar method to enforce fair lending laws.

The methodology does have its shortcomings, particularly when it comes to interracial marriages that result in name changes.

Another caveat in the data comes from FEC rules that only require candidates to disclose the names of donors who give $200 or more to an individual’s campaign. For Gabbard, that meant the analysis included less than $900,000 of the nearly $1.9 million she raised during the first quarter of 2019.

Of the nearly $390,155 Gabbard pulled in from Asian donors, nearly 60 percent came from the Indian American community, and mostly from donors living in California. 

By comparison, California Sen. Kamala Harris, who’s part Indian, raised $322,047 from Asian Americans, with only 22 percent coming from the Indian community.

Gabbard was the first Hindu elected to Congress in 2013. And while she’s not of Indian descent — she’s Samoan American — her ascendance to federal office resonated in the Indian community, both in the U.S. and abroad.

She took her oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita, and then gave it as a gift to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a political strongman she’s defended and supported.

Gabbard’s fondness for Modi has not come without controversy, particularly as her campaign has benefitted from financial support of right-wing Hindu nationalists who some worry foment bigotry and violence against Muslims.

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