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Vin Gupta with Bill Clinton
'I just loved America with its opportunities'
Vinod 'Vin' Gupta, 60, founder, chairman and CEO of infoUSA -- one of America's largest consumers of information with millions of clients -- is probably the single biggest contributor to the Democratic Party over the years.
He is a longtime Clinton benefactor, who has suddenly found himself thrust into the public domain in the wake of major articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post regarding his use of his company's private jet to fly the former President and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on personal, business and campaign trips.
Some shareholders in infoUSA have filed a lawsuit alleging that all of this was 'a waste of corporate assets', and an effort by Gupta to 'ingratiate himself', with these high-profile guests.
Gupta, in an exclusive interview with rediff.com, has said all of these stories being thrown up now was a "smear campaign" to embarrass Mrs Clinton's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and accused the New York Times of "just doing a hatchet job on Hillary and me both because we are friends".
He has also alleged that the New York Times is doing so because it is supporting Illinois Democratic Senator Barack Obama -- who is also vying for the party's Presidential nomination -- "and they are trying to hurt Hillary anyway they can".
The multi-millionaire entrepreneur, who started his company in 1972 with an initial investment of $100 and says infoUSA's revenues will exceed $650 million, first got involved in Democratic Party politics over two decades ago
when the leading Indian American Democratic fundraiser at the time, Ramesh Kapur of Boston, introduced him to erstwhile Democratic Presidential candidate, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, whom Kapur was exhorting Indian Americans to support.
But following Dukakis's disastrous showing it was not until Bill Clinton came on the scene, that Gupta also came into his own as a major donor to the Democrats, especially to Clinton's campaign and consequently established a close friendship with the Clintons.
In 1995, when Clinton was running for re-election, Kapur, organised on behalf of the Democratic National Committee, the first major fund-raiser among Indian Americans for the Clinton re-election campaign, which raised over $500,000.
Gupta, besides being one of the single biggest individual contributors -- whom Kapur by now had coveted and cultivated -- was afforded the honour of introducing Clinton, which he did with rousing gusto.
From then on, Gupta courted the Clintons and in turn, was afforded the opportunity of spending a night in the White House Lincoln Bedroom -- the first Indian American to do so.
As his sustained contributions to the Democrats continued to flow, Clinton offered him the post of first Counsel General to Bermuda and then the Ambassadorship to Fiji, both of which Gupta declined. While he maintained this was for business reasons, it was rumored to be because there were doubts his nomination would be confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee due to alleged violations of Securities and Exchange Commission rules.
Just before his second term ended, Clinton appointed Gupta as a member to the prestigious Board of Trustees of the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
But even with Clinton out of the White House, Gupta's friendship with the now former President grew, and he brought him on as a consultant to infoUSA and, according to the lawsuit, beyond nearly $3 million in consulting fees, had flown the Clintons and himself to Acapulco, Mexico, on a vacation in 2002 and also to Switzerland, Hawaii and Jamaica. He was also said to have provided corporate jets for Mrs Clinton at least seven times since 2002, although it was unclear whether he had done so after she began her Presidential campaign.
FEC records showed that Gupta also donated $19, 500 to her Senate campaign, presidential campaign and her political action committee since 2001.
Gupta is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur), from where he received his Bachelor of Technology degree in 1967, and the University of Nebraska from where he received a Master of Science degree in agricultural engineering and an MBA in 1972 before launching infoUSA -- then American Business Information,Inc, after a brief stint as marketing research manager in Commodore Corporation.
He also took Bill Clinton to his village of Rampur, near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, to inaugurate two schools, including a polytechnic for women, which he had built in memory of his late mother and named after Clinton and Mrs Clinton.
Earlier, in 1992, he had also donated over $2 million to his alma mater to establish the Vinod Gupta School of Management, and about two years ago, donated another $1 million to set up the Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual
Property Law in conjunction with the George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC.
In a 1997 interview with rediff.com, Gupta said he established his company by accident after he received his MBA: "I worked for a mobile home company, and they needed a list of mobile home dealers, which was not available. Then I thought it would be in the yellow pages and I got the yellow pages and compiled the list -- it was a no-brainer."
He said it was "a simple idea and I didn't think anything much would come of it. And then the business sort of grew and I left my job and we are where we are today".
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