Indian voices in Bush pitch - Geography error blows lid off campaign outsourcing

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By K.P. NAYAR in York
  • Published 29.08.04

New York, Aug. 29: They are not Americans. Most of them have never even set foot on American soil.

But half way round the globe from the US, in Bangalore and in New Delhi’s satellite towns of Gurgaon and Noida, a band of young men is literally burning midnight oil for the victory of President George W. Bush in his re-election bid on November 2.

As America’s Republicans enthusiastically gather in New York to renominate their President for another four-year term, the work of these young Indians has, however, embarrassed the White House.

Stung by leaks that Republicans are outsourcing their election campaign work to India, the Republican National Committee (RNC), the party’s highest policy-making body, recently filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against one of its own outfits for raising money by using Indian telemarketers.

The complaint alleged that fund-raising telephone calls from India on behalf of an organisation called the Republican Victory Committee “prompted false, widespread rumours that the RNC was outsourcing its donor phone calls to India”.

The Republican Victory Committee is based in Irving, Texas, the home state of Bush. Republican sources said in private that its promoters have been long-time party enthusiasts. But the political compulsions of outsourcing have now forced the Republican leadership to disown the outfit.

The Texas outfit may have actually got away with its outsourcing exercise if it had not been for the poor training given to Indian telemarketers who handled the job. Sources here said the India-based operation was exposed when one American who received a fund-raising phone call on behalf of the Republican Victory Committee wanted to know where the call was coming from.

“The Washington DC of Virginia,” the caller answered. Washington, the US capital, is actually in DC, short for District of Columbia, and Virginia is its neighbouring state.

The answer, which misrepresented American geography, triggered a series of actions which eventually led to the RNC’s complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

Jody Novacek, who has been named in the RNC’s complaint, told the media that the Texas organisation is “Republican-leaning and the funds (raised through India) will be used for voter mobilisation at the state and local level”.

She said the committee had no paid staff and was entirely a volunteer organisation. Novacek explained that the organisation had used BPO Advantage, a consulting and marketing firm owned by her, to manage its fund raising and pay its telemarketing bills.

It started its fund-raising in January this year, but stopped in April when there were some investigations by US postal inspectors and then resumed its activities in July.

Sources here said that while the Republican Victory Committee’s activities have been the most high profile in the context of outsourcing US election campaign activities, they represent merely the tip of an iceberg.

According to reports here, the Republicans have contracted 75 Indian telemarketers through HCL eServe, a subsidiary of HCL, but efforts to confirm the contract have been stone-walled by the Indian company on the ground that it does not discuss client relations.

Because the Bush White House recognises the inevitability of outsourcing as part of globalisation and has not been opposing it unlike the Democrats, it is surmised that their re-election campaign may have contracts with many Indian outsourcing firms.

The way the Republican leadership dumped the Republican Victory Committee is, however, an example of how much of a hot potato outsourcing has become in the run-up to the presidential poll.