A Quiet Rainmaker
Saturday, July 7, 2007
NEW YORK Inside the Park Avenue office of 38-year-old lawyer and Democratic heavyweight Bal Das, there are none of the usual artifacts of vanity. No grip-and-grin photos of him smiling brightly with Bill or Hillary Clinton, with Harold Ford Jr. or Dick Durbin or Ted Kennedy. Nor are there any hints of a family life -- no drawings by his son, no portraits of him and his wife holding each other closely at sunset at the home they still keep in Paris.
It is precisely the absence of these manifestations of ego that makes Das such a valuable power within the Democratic Party, and particularly in Hillary Rodham Clinton's run for the presidency. As a senior partner and general counsel for a small, highly profitable specialty finance company called InsCap, he doesn't go running for a mention in Page Six and doesn't mug for nightlife photographer Patrick McMullan. Instead, he's someone people-in-the-know know, someone who, by raising oodles of money for Democrats, is routinely courted by politicians across the country.
"He delivers," says venture capitalist and longtime Clinton supporter Alan Patricof. "He's got a very good network. . . . You don't raise the kind of money he does without being someone people believe in and trust."
One of several people listed as "HillRaisers" by the campaign, Das has maxed out the amount he can personally donate while helping to raise what he calculates is more than $300,000 for the cause. Shunning big events, he's hosted a series of small get-togethers at his Upper East Side home. Most recently, he attended a 1,200-person event of Indian American supporters (including Deepak Chopra) and a much smaller gathering where Clinton and Warren Buffett did a Steve-and-Eydie routine for wealthy supporters such as Vernon Jordan and Steven Rattner. Both events raised approximately $1 million each, according to the campaign.
This involvement is all the more remarkable because Das can't even vote for Clinton; born in India, he is not an American citizen. But as a permanent resident, Das is permitted under federal election law to make the same political contributions as any citizen.
"I'm not close to any politician," Das says. "When you say, 'close to,' you're talking about someone you can just pick up and call. They call, they come by the office, and I meet with them. I routinely meet with people like Senator Kennedy or Senator [Chuck] Schumer in small settings. But I cannot call up and say, 'Hey, Chuck.' There's no sinister conversations in dark rooms. I find them to be highly intelligent people who are open to listening to your views on a variety of issues.
"You're the first person I've talked to in the press because there's no great satisfaction in getting your face on CNN and getting your name in public," he adds. "What motivates me is leaving this world better than when I found it."
A man with a cherubic face and rimless glasses, he sports brown wingtips and a tan summer suit a little short in the arms. He projects a kind of formal sincerity. While nearly everyone involved with the former first lady's presidential quest calls the candidate Hillary, Das will refer to her only as "Senator Clinton."
"On many, many occasions we've got to know each other," Das says of her. "She has a vision, and that vision is something that is both pragmatic and idealistic, and it has grit. I like her bluntness, her forthrightness. She does not go for the easy answers. Recently at a small gathering, we had one of the guys, an entrepreneur, who got up and said he didn't like her view on taxes. She engaged him and explained the importance of taxes in the society we live in. Even though she changes views, I think anyone who doesn't change his views is a fanatic."
For his efforts, Das has drawn praise from well-heeled corners of the Democratic Party.
"I think Bal is emblematic of the emergence of new, younger Democratic activists," says former ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who co-hosted a fundraising event for Sen. Durbin (D-Ill.) with Das last month. "He represents the emergence of Indian Americans within the political process. This is a historic event. You have the entrance of an upper-middle-class group into politics. Indian Americans are not focused on running motels anymore or focused on just their business interests or medical career."
Of course, such participation and access haven't gone unnoticed. Recently, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) had to apologize for a staff memo that labeled Clinton as "D-Punjab" and marked her as a supporter of outsourcing. The flap brought to light the tussle within the Democratic Party for the hearts, minds and wallets of this constituency. Indian Americans have important roles in the Clinton campaign; the policy director is Neera Tanden, 36, a Yale Law grad, and the co-chairman of South Asian recruitment is Rajen S. Anand, born in India and an Agriculture Department official during Bill Clinton's administration.