Washington's millennium celebrations could use a few more folks like Vinod Gupta.
The Omaha businessman is the only donor to the New Year's festivities fund who has been identified by officials organizing the White House-promoted events on the Mall. His seven-figure contribution was announced very publicly--at a September news conference with Hillary Rodham Clinton. Since then, those federal officials and also the District officials putting together a separate city-sponsored party on Constitution Avenue NW have declined to name any other individuals who are helping to pay for the three days of celebration.
Which leaves Gupta, and his $1 million check, alone in the spotlight.
"I've been blessed with a lot of good fortune," he said, as if that alone might explain why he decided to help stage the White House show in such generous fashion. He'd called the first lady's chief fund-raiser, Terry McAuliffe, to ask how he could assist, and was told money would be nice. "I figured, a million dollars is a million dollars, but what the hell."
Gupta is no stranger to fund-raisers. He's given much and often to Democratic candidates and causes during the last eight years, including U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey (Neb.), Bill Clinton, Al Gore, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee. In 1997, public-interest groups accused him of buying his way into the running for the consular general post in Bermuda. The job went to someone else.
The 53-year-old Gupta is a philanthropist of some note in Nebraska, where he founded the company now called infoUSA Inc., and in his native India, where his parents still live. His village of Rampur Manhyaran, about 100 miles north of New Delhi, had no electricity, roads, toilets or phones when he was growing up. He left in 1967--with $58 in his pocket, according to his biography--to attend graduate school at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
The village still doesn't have reliable electricity, but it soon will open a technical trade school for women with another $1 million gift by Gupta. He's given twice that much to the Indian Institutes of Technology, where he received an undergraduate engineering degree, as well as $2.5 million to the University of Nebraska.
InfoUSA, which markets business and consumer databases, today is a $300 million firm with some 2,000 employees, and Gupta owns houses in Omaha, Colorado, California and Hawaii. Come Dec. 31, though, he'll be on the Mall. His donation should guarantee him a choice seat for the glitzy evening show and fireworks at the Lincoln Memorial.
"I would have loved a quiet New Year's Eve," he said. "But this is definitely worth it."
CAPTION: Vinod Gupta is the lone individual donor identified by organizers of Mall festivities.