Exclusive interview with the MD Democrat, who has raised more than $500,000 for the Clinton campaign and donated over $734,000 to various campaigns over the years.
By Raif Karerat
(This is the first post in a series on major Indian American donors and fundraisers who are playing a key role in the current presidential election cycle.)
WASHINGTON, DC: Since they began actively participating in US politics in the 1990s, the Indian American community has come a long way, as the number of key officeholders it has produced nationwide in the past decade indicates: two governors, two members of Congress, and more than a dozen state legislators.
In the past few years, Indian Americans have also opened their wallet generously to contribute money to campaigns, ranging from grassroots level to presidential ones. Besides donating money, they have also helped raise millions of dollars for campaigns, especially presidential and gubernatorial ones. In this presidential election cycle, at least 10 Indian Americans have raised more than $100,000 each for Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, according to her campaign.
Few epitomize the fundraising prowess of the Indian American community better than Potomac, MD, resident Frank Islam. The Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, -born entrepreneur has raised more than $500,000 for the Clinton campaign and her victory fund in the current cycle.
Since 2009, Islam has given more than $734,000 in campaign donations to candidates running for various federal and statewide offices across the nation, including presidential and congressional candidates, and party committees, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics — perhaps the most money given by an Indian American in campaign donations during the period.
These days, the 47,000 square feet Potomac home of Islam and his wife, Debbie Driesman, is a haven for Democratic Party fundraisers. In this election cycle, the two have hosted more than half a dozen fundraisers featuring many heavy hitters, including Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton.
In an exclusive interview, Islam spoke about his passion for politics.
Why are you supporting Hillary Clinton?
I am supporting Secretary Clinton because she is unquestionably the most qualified candidate for the office. She is ready to serve and to provide proper guidance to our great nation in all areas on day one.
She experientially understands the stresses and strains that being in the White House puts on an individual.
As a distinguished former Secretary of State, she understands international affairs and has a track record that is unrivalled by no other candidate. As a former Senator from the State of New York, she understands how legislation is crafted and implemented.
Secretary Clinton has been a trail blazer for human rights and women’s rights her entire live. She has talked the talk and walked the walk.
Given where the United States is today, we need someone who can not only map out new trails but can figure the way to blaze them successfully as well. Secretary Clinton is that person. That is why I am supporting.
Why is it in the best interest of Indian Americans to vote for Hillary Clinton?
Let me begin by saying that it is in the best interests of all Americans to vote for Secretary Clinton because she has the interests of all Americans at heart regardless of race, color, creed or country of origin.
Having said that, I think it is the best interest of Indian Americans to vote for the Secretary because of her experience and expertise in dealing with Indian issues which by extension are issues that should be of concern and interest to Indian Americans. Some of the candidates are fearful of immigration. Secretary Clinton is not.
She recognizes that immigrants from India have enabled the United States of America to be a stronger and healthier nation. When she was Secretary of State she implemented many educational and economic development initiatives and collaborations between the U.S. and India that have been beneficial for both countries, Indians, and Indian-Americans.
Have you always skewed Democrat as opposed to Republican?
Over the years, I have supported good candidates with solid agendas from both sides of the aisle.
I have primarily leaned Democratic, however, because it is the party of the people which puts the interests of the middle class and the working poor at the top of its agenda. Coming to the United States from a family of moderate means and as a minority and not a member of the ruling or elite class, I relate to the needs of those individuals.
Let me reinforce the fact, that I do not automatically support a Democratic candidate for office. I carefully review a person’s policy positions and background before deciding whether to support them or not.
What are the most topical issues candidates need to address during the run-up to the national election?
There are significant issues in both the international and domestic arenas such as how to deal with ISIS, trade relationships and immigration. The overriding issue out of the box must be what to do to address the populist outcry in both parties to ensure that the United States is a fair place for individuals on all rungs of the socio-economic ladder.
At present, we have a system that is tilted far too much to the interests of the financial sector, large corporations, and wealthy individuals. That is true in terms of opportunities, rewards and taxes.
The “average” American is losing hope and confidence in the American dream. If this situation is not reversed, America will no longer be America. That is why this topic must be at the top of candidates priority list.
What are your thoughts on Trump’s rise within the Republican Party?
Trump’s rise is understandable. Dating back to the 1960’s, the Republican Party began to implement a strategy focused on disaffected Whites in Southern States and became more conservative. The Tea Party movement over the past several years which is predominantly White has made the party much more conservative, and unified in holding immigrants and blacks in low regard.
This movement has culminated in the current populist support of Trump. Research has shown that the Trump support skews heavily male, white and poor. Other research shows that the average Trump supporter is “angry” and “authoritarian” looking for someone to express their feelings and to strike out against the existing power structure and what they perceive a state of political correctness gone awry.
Where were you born?
I was born in Azamgarh in the State of Uttar Pradesh. I have fond memories of my homeland. It helped to shape my story and my destiny.
I recently had the opportunity to return there and to receive Uttar Pradesh Ratna award. As part of that visit, I talked to school children about my humble origins and my belief that any thing is possible for them. It was inspiring to share my thoughts and to hear theirs in return.
When did you emigrate from India?
I left India at the age of 15 to come to the United States to pursue the American dream. I got two degrees in science and information technology at the University of Colorado, went to work in two technology firms in the DC area for about a decade, started my own firm which became quite successful, and then sold it to Perot Systems. This preparation and perseverance along with the assistance of others — and a little luck — enabled me to achieve the American dream.
I believe this journey would have been impossible in any other nation in the world. That is why I am dedicated to investing my time, talent and resources to ensure that the United States is a place where there journey is possible for others of all means.