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The philanthropist

Here's a quick question: Who is the only Indian American to have slept in the Lincoln Bedroom -- where President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation January 1, 1863 -- at the White House?

The answer: Vinod 'Vin' Gupta, founder, chairman and CEO, infoUSA, leading provider of business and consumer information products. How did he manage to take a nap in that sacred ground? His enviable proximity to the Clintons, perhaps.

The connection made headlines recently, thanks to a lawsuit filed by shareholders in his company against his use of the company's private jet to fly former President Bill Clinton and Senator -- and 2008 Presidential hopeful -- Hillary Rodham Clinton on personal, business and campaign trips.

The lawsuit suggests that it is
in his words
'We've met chief executives, billionaires, government people -- it helps us to make connections and do deals. It's a very competitive world and who you know and which circles you belong to is a big thing.'
Photo: Jay Mandal /
On Assignment
'a waste of corporate assets', and an attempt 'to ingratiate himself' with the Clintons; some would say that Gupta had already achieved that by virtue of being one of the biggest fundraisers for the Clintons. Gupta ranks in the very top tier of Democratic Party fundraisers, and the party and its two high-profile stars have been suitably grateful.

His proximity with the Clintons has been immortalized in dozens of photographs on his personal Web site; here, a picture of Vin and Bill on a golf-course, arms around each other and both sporting smiles as wide as Arkansas; elsewhere, one of him with Hillary at a ski resort in Aspen, Colorado.

The Web site was taken down last year, for unspecified reasons.

During the tail-end of his presidency, Clinton attempted to give Gupta more tangible rewards for services rendered -- first, by nominating him to be US Consul General to Bermuda and when Gupta declined, asking him to be the US Ambassador to Fiji. Gupta again declined -- thus missing out on becoming the first Indian American to be named a US Ambassador.

Gupta, who hails from Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, and is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, founded American Business Information, Inc (later known as infoUSA) in 1972, with an initial investment of $100. Its expected revenues this year are posited to be in excess of $650 million -- and Gupta, while declining Clinton's prestigious offers, had said he wanted to be close to his business. Clinton finally persuaded the self-made millionaire to accept a seat on the prestigious Board of Trustees of the John F Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts.

Gupta has a growing reputation for philanthropy. He has donated over $2 million to IIT Kharagpur to establish the Vinod Gupta School of Management; two years ago, he donated $1 million to establish the Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Law in tandem with the Washington University Law School. And yes, he has built two schools in his native Rampur -- both named by, and for, the Clintons.

Not bad for a man who once described his first big idea involving yellow pages thus: 'It was a no-brainer, a simple idea, and I didn't think much would come of it. Then the business sort of grew, I left my job and here we are today.'