Ethnic communities fertile turf for political fundraising

Ethnic loyalties can kick-start a congressional challenge, San Joaquin Valley races show, but beware: crossing the finish line takes more.

Vividly illustrating the Valley’s diversity, three high-profile, first-time House candidates this year include a Hmong-American born in a refugee camp, a Hispanic born to a farmworker family and a Sikh born to immigrant parents in San Joaquin County.

Fresno City Councilman Blong Xiong, former astronaut Jose Hernandez and law student Ricky Gill differ politically, and each is competing in a different district. They have in common, though, an early reliance on their own distinctive ethnic communities for financial support

“All candidates raise money initially from the people they know,” Xiong’s campaign manager Shaun Daniels said Wednesday

Xiong is a Democrat running in a Republican-tilted congressional district centered in Kings County. At least 128 of the individual donations reported by Xiong during the first three months of 2012 are associated with names indicating Laotian ancestry, Federal Election Commission records show. This amounts to more than 85 percent of all of his individual donations.

“He would be the first Hmong member of Congress, and there’s been a lot of interest in the Hmong community” Daniels said, adding that extended family connections also help.

Xiong, though favored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is having to compete in the 21st Congressional District against fellow Democrat John Hernandez, chief executive officer of the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Each wants the chance to go against Republican Assemblyman David Valadao.

In a similar vein, Gill is a Republican running against Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, in a district centered in San Joaquin County. Gill began last year with an emphatic fundraising boost from the Sikh and Indian-American communities. More than 400 individual donations in his first 2011 fundraising quarter were associated with names indicating Indian ancestry, records show; they amounted to over 90 percent of his initial individual donations.

“I do think there are a lot of Indian-Americans who are supporting Ricky,” Gill’s campaign manager Colin Hunter said, while adding that “there are some who come on board for other reasons; they are farmers, they are businessmen.”

As Hunter suggested, business or ideological reasons rather than ethnic solidarity may well motivate contributions that otherwise hint at an ethnic connection. Xiong’s opponent Valadao, for instance, has raked in donations from the Valley’s Portuguese-American dairy farmers. Maybe they like his ethnicity, maybe they like his own dairy background, maybe they like something that cannot be easily summed up.

Hernandez is running against Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, in a district centered in Stanislaus County. His fundraising, while not as ethnically concentrated as the early fundraising by Gill and Xiong, has been given a boost by fellow Hispanics. Roughly one-third of the individual donors in his first fundraising quarter came from individuals with Hispanic or Portuguese surnames.

"The Valley is a very diverse area and the support that Jose has received over the course of the campaign has represented that diversity,” Hernandez’s campaign manager Dan Krupnik said Wednesday.

The fundraising by another highly touted Democrat, Dr. Ami Bera, illustrates how viable candidates start with what’s ethnically familiar and then expand.

Bera is now running for his second time against Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River. In the kick-off fundraising quarter for his inaugural 2010 race, more than 90 percent of Bera’s individual donors had names indicating Indian ancestry. Now a proven fundraiser, with $1.1 million on hand as of March 31, Bera has also established a significantly more diverse donor base, records show.

This is nothing new, though the fundraising concentration is sometime subtle.

When Fresno businessman Charles “Chip” Pashayan made his first House run in 1978, he rallied the support of the region’s Armenian-American community; during his busiest fundraising quarter that year, 12 percent of the individual donations were from Armenian-Americans, records show. Over the subsequent dozen years Pashayan served in the House, he continued raising money from Armenian-Americans as well as an ever-expanding base.

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