The founder of a nonprofit aimed at encouraging greater Indian-American participation in the electoral process is denying allegations that a recent effort to get people to early voting constituted illegal "vote-buying" or encouraged support for 8th Congressional District Republican candidate Manju Goel.
The campaign of Goel's primary opponent, Larry Kaifesh, said it reported what it believed to be illegal activity by the National Indian American Public Policy Institute to both the Cook and DuPage County state's attorney's offices.
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An ad on the NIAPPI website and in Indian-American publications like Desi Talk In Chicago offers "Free Gift, Food, Music & Ride to Polling Booth" to people who came to four locations in Cook and DuPage counties through the end of early voting Saturday.
Kaifesh campaign spokesman Steve Rossi said that some of his fellow campaign staffers observed a choice of Target or Home Depot gift cards being given away at the locations.
Kaifesh supporters are charging that the whole activity is a violation of state and federal laws, including a federal statute prohibiting expenditures to influence voting.
This statute reads, "Whoever makes or offers to make an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote, or to vote for or against any candidate ... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both."
NIAPPI co-founder Shalli Kumar said attorneys advised him the events are legal. He likened the effort to the "Souls to the Polls" programs that have encouraged greater African-American participation in voting.
The Carol Stream businessman denied that voters were encouraged to vote for any particular candidate.
"Absolutely not!" Kumar said. "That's prohibited. That's a very clear direction. They cannot even use the word 'Manju.'"
Kumar said fewer than 10 percent of Indian-Americans vote, based on what he said is largely a fear of being called to jury duty. And though he is strongly Republican himself, he said the two-thirds of Indian-Americans vote exclusively Democratic are also being urged to the polls through the effort.
A Cook County State's Attorney's office representative said the office does not comment on whether it is conducting an investigation. DuPage County State's Attorney officials could not be reached for comment.
Earlier this week, a spokesman for election public integrity issues at the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on the ad.