Racial Identity of Candidates’ Donors Shouldn’t Be Highlighted

Bethesda Magazine
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This letter was submitted by Sayu Bhojwani of New American Leaders and Gautam Raghavan of Indian American Impact

To the editor:

We write regarding the article "Trone Continues To Pump His Own Money Into District 6 Congressional Campaign” that appeared in Bethesda Beat on Feb. 2. In the article, Andrew Metcalf reports the state of play in the Maryland 6th Congressional race, highlighting David Trone’s self-financing as well as Del. Aruna Miller’s fundraising efforts. In describing Del. Miller’s fundraising, Metcalf notes: "She continued to raise a majority of her contributions from members of the Indian-American community across the country, as she had done in her previous round of fundraising."

This reference to the racial identity of a candidate’s donors prompted us to look further—and indeed, on July 17 and Oct. 16 your magazine highlighted Del. Miller's Indian-American fundraising base. The latter article, by Louis Peck, also reports contributions to fellow [District] 6 candidate Dr. Nadia Hashimi: "Mirroring Miller, Hashimi, who is Afghan-American, raised her contributions from fellow Afghan-Americans and others of South Asian descent—most of them from outside Maryland.” (Note that while Afghanistan is sometimes lumped into “South Asia”, Afghan-Americans are not always referred to or self-identify as South Asian American.)

Bethesda Magazine’s Bethesda Beat has also made it a point to characterize donors in this way when reporting about Montgomery County Council candidate Ashwani Jain (also by Louis Peck on Jan. 18) and House of Delegates candidate Samir Paul (Louis Peck on Jan. 22).

This pattern leads us to ask a few questions:

No. 1: What is your methodology for identifying Indian American donors? Assuming you are looking at surnames, how familiar are you with Indian American surnames that you feel comfortable about your analysis?

No. 2: Do you similarly identify Latino, African-American, and other Asian-American candidates and donors? What about women, Jewish, or LGBTQ candidates and donors?

No. 3: Have you ever reported on white donors supporting white candidates?

No. 4: Why is this analysis relevant to voters?

We raise the above questions to make the following point: this kind of reporting is flawed, problematic, and suggests a relationship between a donor’s ethnicity and her contribution. If you don’t similarly identify white donors, or the ethnicity of donors to white candidates, you imply to readers that the only time ethnicity is relevant is when donors and candidates are nonwhite.

We believe that remarking on the ethnicity of Indian-American donors suggests that they are outside the mainstream and that outside influences (“those people”) are trying to influence the outcome of the race. It hurts the credibility of viable, experienced candidates who have demonstrated their service to their communities. It is natural for any candidate to turn to his or her base for support; that base is geographic but may also share characteristics such as ethnicity, occupation or gender. Also, immigrant communities (from the early waves of Jewish, Irish, and Italian immigrants to Asian immigrants today), in business or in any other endeavor—tend to rely on immigrant networks because they lack access to other networks of power.

As our citizens, candidates and donors continue to diversify, what matters is not their ethnicity, but that they are making our democracy stronger by participating.