CA17: A few Khanna contributors want refunds

Three contributors to South Bay congressional candidate Ro Khanna’s campaign want their money back.

They gave to the Fremont Democrat during the final quarter of 2011, in which he shattered fundraising records with a $1.2 million haul. At the time, it was widely believed he would run to succeed Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, in the 15th Congressional District; instead, he later chose to run against Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, this year in the 17th Congressional District. And these three contributors are Mike Honda fans.

After consulting with Honda’s campaign, they sent this e-mail to Khanna on Monday morning:

Dear Ro,

In 2011, you asked us to contribute to your campaign to be Pete Stark’s successor when he retired. You are an energetic, smart person who shared our values, so we gave you $6,000 to support this goal.

But you are not using our money the way you promised. Instead, you’re using it to run against Congressman Mike Honda, a man who has spent his life increasing opportunities for people to better themselves, including you. We cannot support you in this and we don’t want our money to play any part in it either.

We request a refund of the $6,000 we gave you under the false pretense that you would use it to run in an open seat, which you clearly are not doing now. We did not give you the money to replace Congressman Mike Honda — a well-respected, accomplished, former Japanese internment camp survivor, former science educator, Asian-American trailblazer and legislator.

Sophia Yen
Steve Silberstein
Ted Fang

“I want people to know who we are backing and who we feel should win,” Yen, 42, of Los Altos, said Monday afternoon. “I love Mike Honda and I think he’s well qualified and has done so much.”

A clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Stanford Medical School and a physician at the Center for Adolescent Health in Mountain View, Yen gave Khanna’s campaign $1,000 on Nov. 30, 2011, and said Monday she hopes Khanna “will be honorable” and refund her contribution. She said she knows Khanna from having worked alongside him on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign and for other causes: “I feel bad, but I’d feel worse if he were to take out Mike Honda.”

Fang, 50, of San Francisco – president and executive director of the AsianWeek Foundation and a former editor and publisher of the San Francisco Examiner and AsianWeek – gave Khanna’s campaign $2,500 on Dec. 8, 2011. He declined comment further Monday, saying the email speaks for itself.

Silberstein, 70, of Belvedere, the retired co-founder of a company that makes software for libraries and a prolific philanthropist and Democratic donor, gave Khanna’s campaign $2,500 on Oct. 18, 2011. He couldn’t be reached for comment Monday and Tuesday.

They’re not getting their money back, Khanna campaign manager Leah Cowan said Tuesday.

“Ro has been running a positive campaign focused on his ideas and vision for the future of the Bay Area and our nation,” she said. “Since launching his campaign to represent California’s 17th district, Ro has received support from many people who contributed to Congressman Honda in the past. We’re not aware that any of them have requested to be reimbursed by the Honda campaign, nor would we expect the Honda campaign to honor such a request. Because this donation to Ro was made almost two years ago, it would be impractical to return at this point.”

Also Tuesday, Khanna’s campaign launched a “Truth Squad” – with its own Facebook and Twitter accounts – which it described as a group of volunteers in the district “committed to confronting distortions with facts.”

“Ro’s candidacy is about engaging a broad group of voters and allowing them to make an informed choice on the kind of representative they want in Washington. But Ro’s opponents aren’t confident they can win on the truth alone – and that’s why they have been making baseless attacks since we launched this campaign,” Khanna spokesman Tyler Law wrote in an e-mail announcing the effort. “When you sign up for the Truth Squad, you’ll get updates and tip sheets so you can make sure your friends, neighbors, and family have the facts about this race. All information that you find on the site will be fully sourced so you can see where we got it.”

UPDATE @ 4:25 P.M.: It seems the “Truth Squad” needs a dose of its own medicine.

In a post that sought to shore up Khanna’s Democratic bona fides, the campaign listed a dozen “local Democratic officials” who support his candidacy. But three of those officials – Milpitas Mayor Jose Esteves, former Newark Mayor Dave Smith and former Cupertino Mayor Richard Lowenthal – actually are registered Republicans. And I’m hearing that a fourth – Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward – has either made a dual endorsement or no endorsement at all in this race. Click to enlarge:

Truth Squad screencap

Law said this was a minor, behind-the-scenes snafu in which a few local endorsers inadvertently were added to a list of Democratic supporters, and it will be changed immediately.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.