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American Indian Congressman Ami Bera’s re-election is at risk due to father’s illegal funding

Father Babulal Bera pleads guilty to election fraud

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Ami Bera. Image: flickr

The 83-year-old father of Ami Bera, the only Indian descent Congressman has pleaded guilty to illegally funding his son’s election campaigns with at least $260,000, putting at risk his re-election this year in November.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell announced Tuesday that Babulal Bera admitted to making contributions to Ami Bera’s two election campaigns fraudulently in the names of other people and over the legal limit.

Prosecutors have cleared Ami Bera of involvement in the campaign funding scam, but it makes his reelection prospects harder as he is already facing opposition in his constituency from trade unions in his own Democratic Party. He was reelected to a second term in 2014 by less than 1,500 votes after a bruising campaign. The race was the costliest House of Representatives campaign that year with the two parties together running up a tab of $21 million.

Babulal Bera and Ami Bera Image: fox40.com
Babulal Bera and Ami Bera
Image: fox40.com

Federal prosecutor Phillip A. Talbert told reporters on Tuesday that there was “no indication” that the Democratic Representative or his staff were involved in the illegal election financing and that they had cooperated with the prosecutors.

Ami Bera, a medical doctor who represents the from the 7th California District in the state capital area, told the Sacramento Bee newspaper that he had no idea that his father had illegally financed his campaign. He said that he has sent the money contributed by his father to the US government.

In 2010 Ami Bera lost his first election campaign for the House of Representative for which his father, a retired chemical engineer, contributed $240,000. The successful 2012 campaign received $40,000 from his father.

According to the Federal Election Commission, the maximum amount an individual can contribute to a candidate was $2,400 in 2010 and $2,500 in 2012.

Babulal Bera was charged in the federal court for the Eastern California in Sacramento before Judge Troy L. Nunley, who is to sentence him in August. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years on two charges, but is unlikely get the harsh penalty given his age. The Los Angeles Times reported that the prosecutors are recommending a prison term of upto 30 months.

Court papers said that Babulal Bera asked about 90 friends and relatives to send over 130 contributions to his son’s campaign in their own names and then he reimbursed them so that he himself will not appear to have exceeded the legal funding limits.

He is the third person of Indian descent to run afoul of the election laws in the past two years. Conservative author Dinesh D’Souza was convicted in 2014 of illegally contributing $20,000 to the unsuccessful Republican Senate campaign of his college friend, Wendy Long. Although New York federal prosecutor Preet Bharara sought a jail term, the judge gave him a $30,000 fine and eight months of community confinement that allowed him to continue working.

Sant Singh Chatwal, a hotelier, pleaded guilty in 2014 to making illegal contributions of $188,000 to three candidates and was fined $500,000 and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service. In an unusual move, the federal prosecutor in Brooklyn at that time, Loretta Lynch, did not disclose who received Chatwal’s illegal contributions. Media reports, however, identified one of the recipients as Hillary Clinton who received them when she ran for Senate. Lynch is now the US Attorney General.

The scandal casts a shadow on Ami Bera’s reelection bid in November when he will face the Republican Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones. He is up against serious opposition within his own party because of his support for President Barack Obama’s Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, which trade unions consider anti-labour.

Because of trade union opposition he was unable get the endorsement of his local party unit to run for reelection and he had to get the backing of the state party convention. Unions have held protests against him in his district and vowed to defeat him as they say 12-nation TPP will lead to loss of jobs and lower wages in the US because of the cheaper imports it will allow.

Ami Bera’s 2014 victory was a nail-biter. On election night he was about 3,000 votes behind Republican Doug Ose, but as postal and other ballots were tallied over a two-week period he emerged the winner by just 1,432 votes.

According to media reports, Bera raised $3.7 million and outside organisations like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $6.5 million promoting him in the 2014 election. Ose raised $3.2 million and the National Republican Congressional Committee and others contributed almost $7 million to campaign for him. (IANS)

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Brazil’s President Bolsonaro Faces First Defeat in Congress

The defeat on the floor of the house came one day after Bolsonaro fired a senior minister amid a scandal.

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Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro arrives at the inauguration ceremony of the new president of the Parliamentary Front of Agriculture (FPA), at the Clube Naval, in Brasilia, Jan. 19, 2019. VOA

Brazil’s lower chamber handed right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro his first defeat in Congress on Tuesday, the day before his government presents its most important legislative proposal to rein in a gaping budget deficit and spur growth.

The house voted overwhelmingly to suspend an executive order by the Bolsonaro government that altered Brazil’s freedom of information law to broaden the number of officials allowed to designate data and documents as secret or ultra-secret.

Lawmakers voted 367 to 57 to fast-track a bill overturning the secrecy measure and government whips were unable to muster votes to avoid defeat.

The bill must still be voted on by the Senate, but the reversal showed that Bolsonaro, who took office on Jan. 1, has not yet been able to organize a coalition in Congress to back his legislative agenda.

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro will send to Congress his plan to overhaul Brazil’s generous and costly pension system that eats up more than half of federal spending and is the main factor behind an unsustainable budget deficit.

Brazil, Bolsonaro
FILE – Gustavo Bebianno in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sept. 29, 2018. VOA

Approval of pension reform is vital for the recovery of investor confidence in Latin America’s largest economy.

The defeat on the floor of the house came one day after Bolsonaro fired a senior minister amid a scandal involving campaign financing for some of his party’s congressional candidates in the October elections.

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The ousted minister, Gustavo Bebianno, was instrumental in getting Bolsonaro elected but had a run-in with one of the president’s sons, triggering the weeks-old government’s first cabinet crisis.

In a note to clients, analysts at Eurasia Group said the scandal indicated the administration’s political team was in disarray, but they still expected the pension reform to get passed, albeit in a less ambitious version. (VOA)