CA17: Khanna & Honda spar over campaign money

South Bay congressional candidate Ro Khanna and Rep. Mike Honda are challenging each other to put their money where their mouths are – or rather, to give up some of that money.

Khanna, a Democrat from Fremont, sent a letter Thursday to Honda, D-San Jose, asking the congressman to shun any independent expenditure committee or super PAC support in the 17th Congressional District race.

“I was encouraged to see your Tweet yesterday about your co-sponsorship of House Joint Resolution 25, to amend the Constitution and overturn Citizens United. We are in complete agreement on this important issue. Unlimited spending by outside special interest groups is polluting our politics,” Khanna wrote.

“Let’s stand together with the other candidates in this race and take the same People’s Pledge Senator Elizabeth Warren and her opponent did to keep independent expenditures out of their race in 2012,” he wrote. “Senator Warren and Scott Brown agreed to pay a penalty of 50 percent the cost of any TV, radio, or Internet advertising by an outside group – whether that ad supported the candidates themselves or aimed to attack their opponent. The money would be donated to a charity chosen by the other candidate. I believe we should embrace this landmark agreement and expand it to include direct mail expenditures as well. By saying no to all forms of advertising from outside groups, we are taking real stand against Citizens United.”

It worked well in that Massachusetts Senate race, Khanna noted.

“I hope you will take this pledge with me – and join me in asking any other candidates who may enter this race to do the same,” he wrote. “As the heart of Silicon Valley, the 17th District is our nation’s capital of innovation. We have a real opportunity to lead on this issue, too.”

Khanna already has pledged not to accept any direct contributions from PACs or federally registered lobbyists – though it’s not as if a lot of that money would be raining down upon him anyway as he challenges a seven-term incumbent. The same goes for independent expenditures and super PACs: While some might come Khanna’s way, Honda probably would benefit more, and so would lose more by taking this pledge.

Khanna’s campaign started this year with $1.97 million cash on hand while Honda had $622,000 banked, so this might not be an easy principle for Honda to stand on.

Then again, Honda has been outspoken in his opposition to Citizens United and the rampant independent spending it has bred:

Honda tweet

Doug Greven, Honda’s campaign manager, responded to Khanna campaign manager Leah Cowan on Thursday night. Apparently Honda won’t commit to a pledge against IE and super PAC funding, but Greven made a counter-offer:

In the true spirit of keeping undue influence out of this election, we propose limiting contributions to all candidates in this race to an amount that puts millionaires on a level playing field with ordinary folks: $570. This is the same limit as local elections in the city of Fremont, in our district.

We propose that all campaigns refund contributions to any donors who have already given more than this limit of $570. Your campaign can start by refunding the $11,000 in contributions from the five donors who have already requested a refund because Ro misled them. He had asked for their max-out contributions to run for an open seat, then used their money to run in a different district — against Mike.

Then your campaign can continue by refunding contributions to Marc Leder (gave $5,200 to Ro) who hosted Mitt Romney for the fundraiser where he made his 47% remark, and Peter Thiel (gave $2,500 to Ro) who has given millions to the Club for Growth in order to elect far-right conservatives like Ted Cruz.

We look forward to your response.

Asked whether this means Honda won’t consider the anti-IE pledge, Honda campaign spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan replied, “Any serious proposal to change campaign financing in this race would need to include reducing the amount that can be given directly to any campaign.”

Seeing as how the first part of this proposal would entail Khanna’s campaign jettisoning the vast majority of the tremendous bankroll it has raised, I feel confident in guessing the answer will be: “Fat chance.”

UPDATE @ 8:41 A.M. FRIDAY: Cowan replied to Greven late last night.

Hi Doug,

I appreciate your note, but I think it’s off topic.

Yesterday Congressman Honda tweeted that he supports amending the US Constitution to reverse Citizens United. Ro agrees.

Citizens United ruled that corporations are people and that individuals have the right to spend unlimited money to influence elections. I think you are aware that reversing Citizens United has nothing to do with the issues you raised in your note.

Does Congressman Honda support reversing Citizens United or doesn’t he?

Does he think the reversal of Citizens United should apply to all candidates, or would he write exceptions into the United States Constitution?

We have a real opportunity in this race to stand up against special interests and do something that the voters are demanding: change business as usual in Washington. I hope that Congressman Honda will reconsider his position and join Ro in this pledge.

Yours Truly,

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.

  • Mary Shine

    If Congressman Honda truly opposes Citizens United, he should be more than willing to follow the example of Senator Elizabeth Warren and take the People’s Pledge to keep independent expenditures by outside interests/PACs out of the CA17 race.


    Experts on both sides of the spectrum agree that special interest money is in large part the problem in Washington today. Congressman Honda being a six term incumbent could certainly raise money from individuals and turn down PAC money if he wanted to be truly a national leader on opposing Citizens United. CA17 is the leader in tech in the country and we now have chance to be one politically in ending the influence of PAC’s.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Maybe both Honda and RoKha should set an example of selflessness and withdraw from the election.

  • Crazy_Like_A_Fox

    I’ve been following this race closely the past few weeks. When I saw Honda’s tweet yesterday, something didn’t seem quite right. It turns out that he is flip-flopping big time!

    Check out the San Jose Inside article from this past November when he is asked about accepting PAC sponsored travel. http://www.sanjoseinside.com/news/entries/11_6_13_mike_honda_ro_khanna_congress/

    Honda says he’s honored to accept the sponsored travel. “The Supreme Court says corporations are individuals and they couldn’t stand in the way of free speech,” Honda says in a 30-minute phone interview. “It’s a little stretch, but for me PACs are a way to have different groups speak with one voice.

    So which is it Congressman Honda? Are corporations people or are they not?

    Khanna has been consistent and clear from the beginning that he will not accept a dime from PACs, special interest groups, or lobbyists. He’s already putting his money where his mouth is and hasn’t wavered from that stance once.

    Honda’s response to taking a stand against Citizens United is a complete joke.

  • JohnW

    Or maybe they could do job sharing. Honda can take the odd days, and RoK the even days.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Excellent idea, John. The dudes are always crowing about job-creation schemes.

  • Jon Ramos

    I called Rep. Honda office last week asking if he was going to debate anyone before the June primary. They indicated someone was going to call me back in one hour-they lied. Rep. Honda has done little during his 12 years in office-time for a change. Rep. Honda seems to actually be afraid of meeting people and answering questions. When I attended an event last year, he seemed loss all questions had to be reviewed before he answered any question. The 17th district needs someone who is more active and will respond to our needs. I’m voting for Khanna, the Republican candidate seems to be like Honda, she is out of touch and does little campaigning. The biggest problem I have will Honda is his refusal to debate anyone.

  • JohnW

    How thoughtless of them. 700 thousand people in the district, and they didn’t find the time to return your call and personally answer to you about their “to debate or not to debate” decision.