CA17: More on VanLandingham’s nomination

The ties between Democratic congressional candidate Ro Khanna’s supporters and those who helped get Republican candidate Joel VanLandingham into the 17th Congressional District race might run deeper than initially reported.

My story early last month outlined how Khanna supporters associated with the Fremont Hindu Temple – including one Newark woman in particular – seemed to have been instrumental in circulating VanLandingham’s nominating petitions. Khanna said neither he nor any members of his campaign staff had anything to do with it.

Vanila Singh, the first Republican to enter the race, has said she doesn’t believe that – she insists Khanna and his supporters recruited VanLandingham to split the GOP vote and boost Khanna’s chances of getting into the June primary’s top two with Rep. Mike Honda. She has used this as an excuse for skipping candidate forums, saying she’ll not take part in any event in which VanLandingham participates.

Now comes new research from Margaret Okuzumi, a Honda supporter who is the Democratic Club of Sunnyvale’s incoming president.

Okuzumi claims Khanna’s campaign moved to “hijack” that club by having more than 45 of campaign staffers and supporters – and even Khanna, who lives in Fremont – become members in the latter half of last year in order to sway the endorsement vote.

“People would only do that if directed by a campaign to do so. Otherwise, they are hardly likely to know that our Democratic Club even exists or that our endorsement is considered of strategic importance, especially if they live as far away from Sunnyvale as Fremont,” she said. “I wouldn’t have minded as much if they’d actually recruited new people from Sunnyvale to join our club. Instead they recruited over 30 people who didn’t care about our city and who weren’t interested in our activities other than our endorsement.”

But Nancy Smith, the Sunnyvale club’s cofounder and former president, said Monday that Honda’s and Khanna’s campaigns both were notified of the club’s endorsement rules – namely, that a person would have to sign up and attend at least one meeting before being allowed to take part in an endorsement vote. “I would have to say Ro’s campaign took that more seriously than Mike’s did,” she said.

The club eventually voted overwhelmingly not to endorse anyone in this race – which some might see as a win for Khanna, given Honda’s incumbency.

However, five of those new Sunnyvale Democratic Club members – including Shivani Sanan, Rajesh and Madhu Gupta, Priya Kapil and Tanu Kalra, all of Fremont – later signed VanLandingham’s Alameda County nominating petitions, Okuzumi found. Another one, Mahesh Pakala, reportedly asked a Fremont couple affiliated with the temple to sign Vanlandingham’s petition. And several of VanLandingham’s petition-signers either themselves gave money – more than $10,000 total – to Khanna’s campaign or had immediate family members who did.

“Without Khanna campaign involvement, VanLandingham would not have received enough signatures to qualify for the ballot,” Okuzumi said.

More, after the jump…

“It’s clear that Ro Khanna’s supporters and donors made a concerted effort to help Republican Joel VanLandingham get on the ballot,” Honda campaign manager Doug Greven said in an email Monday. “If Ro Khanna himself really had nothing to do with this, he should publicly condemn his supporters who orchestrated this scheme, and refund the more than $10,000 in contributions he received from them.”

Khanna campaign spokesman Tyler Law responded Monday that “instead of offering a vision for strengthening the Bay Area, the Honda campaign and its supporters are resorting to the same baseless attacks that have already been discredited time and again.” Citing Khanna’s recent newspaper endorsements, Law said “it’s time for new leadership in Congress that’s focused on building a brighter future for this community, not tearing down an opponent.”

VanLandingham said via email Monday that he’s surprised that his campaign “frightened Mike Honda so much. I am thrilled that the very notion of me running for office against him sent his staffers into such an uproar that they are trying to connect me to Ro Khanna and some crazy Democrat conspiracy.”

He likened this situation to the “six degrees of separation,” and offered thanks to all those who signed his petitions. “My call to freedom of supporting unions, giving to charities rather than raising campaign funds and taking the money out of politics has had phenomenal response and support from people from all political parties.”

“Why go digging in a ditch trying to come up with negative things about Mr. Honda’s competitors, rather than promoting his accomplishments?” VanLandingham asked. “I am sure that there are many accomplishments that his supports would rather know about, than trying to discredit his competitors. This is politics at its worst.”

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.

  • Elwood

    Wow! Talk about an ethics problem!

  • Hisazo

    What does a campaign do when it’s in a tailspin? It doesn’t talk about the issues and instead pursues negative campaign tactics. Very telling of the integrity of the string pullers behind Mike Honda’s operation.

  • AmusedToDeath14

    I got a kick out of seeing Margaret Okuzumi’s name. I’ve been a resident of Sunnyvale for a long time. She is not well-liked within that club. She has been a shill for Honda for years and club members have actually quit attending meetings because of her involvement with the club. The only reason she is the incoming president is because no one else really volunteered for it. After seeing Khanna’s and Vanlandingham’s interaction at the candidate forum a couple of weeks ago, I highly doubt that they had any interaction prior to the forum. Vanlandingham attacked Khanna HARD at the forum. He went after Honda a little bit as well. Just watch the video of it. It is available on the LWV’s website. I think this reeks of desperation and is a made up conspiracy. If it is in fact true, then Khanna and Vanlandingham both deserve Oscars!

  • Marga

    I think what is most likely is that Vanlandingham is acquainted with one of the people at the Fremont Hindu Temple who supports Khanna, and s/he volunteered to get signatures for him. It may not be the smartest move, but that’s what you get when you have political supporters taking matters into their own hands. I am sure that many of the people I support cringe about what I do on my own 🙂

    But I do think it’s good to bring attention to the Democratic club endorsement problem. This happens with pretty much every club, every election. People join them for the exclusive purpose of voting to endorse their candidate-of-choice. Then supporters of other candidates complain about this. Clubs could easily stop this by making some stricter rules as to whom can vote, e.g. you must have belonged to the club for at least 6 months and participated in at least 2 club activities. But they don’t, because clubs make a substantial amount of money from these new memberships. Plus, their delegate count at pre-endorsement meetings is based on how big their membership is. The system is basically built to be manipulated.

  • AmusedToDeath14

    I completely agree with you on all fronts, Marga. Your theory makes a lot of sense. I do not think Vandlandingham’s nomination was orchestrated by Khanna’s team in any way, shape, or form. But, it certainly could have ve been some of Ro’s supporters, which is beyond his control.

  • AmusedToDeath14: Just so’s you know, your name was among those that Okuzumi listed as Khanna supporters who she believes joined the club in order to stack the endorsement vote.

  • TheFraudChecker

    There is a bigger picture out there! This is about preserving the old guard! Sen. Fenistien, Zoe Lofgren,Nancy Pelosi,Anna Eshoo Once this redwood falls they will all fall!

  • TheFraudChecker

    Seems like the people up on the hill are getting scared of the the storm that is brewing. The ladies representing our great state in Washington DC are more scared of the change that is about to take place in this election than Honda will ever be.

  • Marga

    Josh, as we have your attention, you quote Nancy Smith as saying that both campaigns were notified of the endorsement rules and that Khanna took it more seriously than Honda.

    Did she mean that the Khanna campaign took the possibility of stacking the vote more seriously, or the rule about having new members attend a meeting before they could vote more seriously? In other words, did Honda try to stack it too but failed because of the “one meeting” rule?

    But ultimately, the notification itself sounds like an invitation to both campaigns to stack the endorsement. And, think about it, if they both do it effectively it does mean a lot of money for the club.

  • TheFraudChecker

    As far as the clowns out there trying to make secret moves to get someone elected. Be aware you have made to many mistakes although not illegal but just plane stupid and the players involved. A word to the wise, a lot more people know what is going on then you think. It is going to a very hard for you to see what is going to come out between now and June.

  • Marga

    oh, please, if you have info, share it. Let’s not play “Scandal”.

  • AmusedToDeath14

    Ha! That doesn’t surprise me, Josh. Thanks for letting me know. I can’t speak for the others, but I have lived in Sunnyvale for several years and joined the club in 2012 months before Khanna made the decision to run in the 17th district. I am proudly supporting Ro and have disclosed that on multiple occasions in my comments. And for the record, I was NOT at the meeting where they had the endorsement vote. Based on things that I’ve heard through the grapevine, I do believe Okuzumi holds a grudge against anyone who is supporting Khanna, which likely makes her suspicious of anyone who is supporting him. I could be wrong, but it’s just my humble opinion.

  • TheFraudChecker

    Joel Vanlandingham = a real candidate just does not have his strategy together. Needs to focus!

    Mike Honda= just needs to stay home, his time has passed.

    Singh= is an embarrassing candidate for the Republican party. This person jumped parties before filing. Thus person received ruffly $100k from out of state donor which was suspect. Actually it is really embarrassing that the republican party actually are standing behind her! what a joke!

    Ro Kanna: what he raised a bunch of money for Obama and received a short lived appointment which got him a do nothing job at Wilson Sonsini just for the title. he brings the old school Chicago polictics to the bay. maybe needed maybe not.

  • jimgriffith

    Margaret Okuzumi *founded* the Democratic Club of Sunnyvale, is the uncontested President-elect of the club, and is also this year’s winner of the Santa Clara County Democratic Party’s Madge Overhouse Volunteer of the Year Award, for which she was nominated by club members. She’s very well-liked by those of us who have actually attended the club for more than six months, and she’s well liked by county Democrats. And as a five-year member myself, I don’t know of a single person who has quit the club because of her.

    This is character assassination of an ordinary Sunnyvale resident on behalf of a political campaign, which is hugely offensive. The Khanna campaign must do the responsible thing, denounce these character attacks, and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that actions like this don’t happen again just to benefit Khanna’s campaign.

    Disagree with Margaret all you want. Challenge the facts she has unearthed. Argue against the candidate she (and I) chose to support. But don’t attack her character and her reputation just for political gain, and don’t just make stuff up in the process.

  • Guest

    Fair enough. I will delete my comment. I’m not a part of Khanna’s campaign. Just speaking from my experience and opinion.

  • jimgriffith

    It also means a dysfunctional club for a year. With all of these people joining who only care about that one endorsement vote and never show up to another meeting again, the club will have difficulty achieving a quorum for the next year, until those memberships start to expire. Khanna’s campaign’s stacking of the club has done serious damage to the DCS’ ability to function for the next year. We had people joining our club from Southern California and from the east coast, even. Other clubs have reported similar incidents.

    The campaigns were simply informed of the endorsement rules in advance, so there were no surprises when the endorsement vote happened. It wasn’t an invitation of any type, and the resulting membership stacking wasn’t anything that the club’s regulars wanted to happen. We’ve since worked to change the DCS bylaws to prevent this from happening again.

  • Marga

    Surely, this was not the first time that this happened. I’ve heard the same complaints from pretty much every important Democratic club in every election.

    My feeling is that as long as the leadership approved of the candidates being endorsed, they were fine and even encouraged this arrangement.

    Still, I applaud any efforts to fix this huge loophole. I hope other clubs will follow suit.

  • Richard Woulfe

    Mike Honda’s campaign is in a freefall, he failed to get the support of local newspapers – both the SF Chronicle and the Mercury News have come out for Ro Khanna. Both papers believe, as I do, Honda is a 70’s era candidate trying to apply 70’s era solutions to 21st century problems. Honda has also lost the support of the Silicon Valley high tech community – they are backing Ro Khanna to the hilt – even though Khanna has made no deals with high tech leaders whatsoever. High tech leaders, along with local newspapers, believe – accurately – that Ro Khanna is a terrific candidate for the house, going forward.
    Honda’s answer to his freefall is to dig into his 70’s era bag of tricks, he’s sending out these false “hit piece” attack style mailers – mailers paid for by Washington DC PACS and special interest groups. Honda is also working the rumour mill, spreading all sort of false information out Ro Khanna, stuff that has no basis in fact whatsoever.
    While maybe Honda’s tactics will work – I doubt it. Khanna has lined up all the support he has gotten, this massive get-out-the-vote operation he’s put together, the endorsements from local newspapers, and the backing of high tech leaders – he’s gotten this support by just being a great candidate – he’s a candidate who has great ideas on how to turn US economy around. This is a fine young candidate for the house – the best – I think he beats Honda for that reason, voters will see this, like the newspapers just did.

  • TheFraudChecker


  • TheFraudChecker


    More Ro’mentum as the Merc Ed Board endorses the “have carpet, will travel” Khanna to replace Mike Honda in congress. The piece talks about Ro in glowing terms and basically says Mike is old so it’s time to push him overboard. So, just how old is Barbara Marshman these days? – See more at: http://www.thedailyfetch.com/silicon-valley/#sthash.3jR3NGHb.dpuf

  • TheFraudChecker


    More Ro’mentum as the Merc Ed Board endorses the “have carpet, will travel” Khanna to replace Mike Honda in congress. The piece talks about Ro in glowing terms and basically says Mike is old so it’s time to push him overboard. So, just how old is Barbara Marshman these days? – See more at:http://www.thedailyfetch.com/s

  • Marga

    That was pretty nasty, but I think one can give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they didn’t realize how racist the phrase sounded. Which reminds me, has anyone been watching “Silicon Valley”? They had the funniest story line on racism a couple of episodes ago.

  • TheFraudChecker

    Very Sad! watching how the nation reacted to the Clipper’s owner’s comments and No one raised an issue with this type of arrogant racism is sad!

  • TheFraudChecker

    why would you as an American dismiss this type of racist remark? It was in english?????

  • Marga

    Yes, but you are reading it from seemingly a different perspective than it was written.

    The writer was basically calling Khanna a carpetbagger, a term used to refer to candidates who move to a district to run for office, and which comes from American history, when northerners moved to the South, carrying their belongings in carpet bags, to profit from Reconstruction. (I learned all of this from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carpetbagger).

    Now, I will admit that when I read the description, I did get the imagine of someone traveling in a magic carpet. And that’s why it felt nasty to me – but I don’t really think that’s how it was meant.

  • TheFraudChecker

    Carpet Bagger is spelled differently and is clearly understood. “have carpet will travel” is racist and I’m a white American and I’m embarrassed that jerks like this are tolerated and you making excuses for them is even sadder.

  • dww2

    I am the President of the Democratic Club of Sunnyvale. I am responding to the post on your blog in which the Ro Khanna campaign is accused of trying to hijack our Club. The Ro Khanna campaign did not improperly try to hijack the Democratic Club of Sunnyvale.

    I should explain that I have remained neutral between Mike Honda and Ro Khanna for the good of our Club. They are both excellent Democrats. What I did do was explain the rules of the Club to both the Ro Khanna campaign and the Mike Honda campaign. I invited both campaigns to encourage their supporters to join the Club, for the good of the Club. I personally invited both Ro Khanna and Mike Honda to speak to our Club, and had the honor of introducing each to the Club.

    Both Honda supporters and Khanna supporters have joined the Club in the last twelve months, which was absolutely proper under the Club’s rules. This expansion of the Club is just what we wanted. It increased the influence of the Club within the Democratic Party. We are still inviting Democrats to join the Club. If that should cause the Club to swing toward Mike Honda or toward Ro Khanna, well, that’s the democratic process.

    There was no effort by either campaign to hijack the Club. In fact both campaigns behaved themselves very well. Margaret Okuzumi presented the same case to the Club’s Board that she presented to you. We rejected her request that the Board take her case to the Press because we didn’t see a case. By the way, she is not the incoming President of the Club. She is a candidate for that position, but she has not yet been elected.

    David Wessel
    Democratic Club of Sunnyvale

  • Many people sign petitions to get candidates they do not support on the ballot. I’ve done it. Why? Simply because I believe that everyone has the right to run for office. It is not up to me to keep someone from doing so. When I have done signed petitions, it has had NOTHING to do with any candidate I do support, and I acted on my own. My guess is, the people mentioned in your article did the same.

  • Elwood

    You need to devote more thought to it, Marga.

    Your first impression was correct.

  • Elwood

    Illiterate? Write for free brochure!

  • Margaret Okuzumi

    I’m the Margaret Okuzumi quoted in this piece. Mr. Richman did not actually interview me before writing it, instead working off of some emails I’d written to him, so I did not get a chance to clarify a few things. First, as is clearly stated in the piece, the Democratic Club of Sunnyvale has not endorsed a candidate in this race, and I contacted Mr. Richman as an individual and not in any official capacity for the Club, as my board directed that I not speak in any official capacity as we have not endorsed either candidate. The Club actually voted to not engage in an endorsement process for this race, rather than any candidate falling short of getting sufficient votes in an endorsement vote.

    After I approached my board about my initial discovery about the five new members who signed Vanlandingham’s petition (consider that he qualified with only 48 valid signatures) I subsequently did additional research that uncovered the linkages between the Vanlandingham petition signers and major donors to Khanna’s campaign.

    Now consider what percentage of the population actually gives that kind of money (we’re talking $250, $500, $1,000, $2500, $5000) to political campaigns. And consider that even among political junkies, people don’t generally track or circulate candidate nominating petitions unless they’re part of a campaign. Only campaigns get down in the weeds coordinating such logistics. There were patterns in the signature gathering that point toward the Khanna campaign, even beyond what was reported here. The facts of my findings as reported here are not under dispute. Was there a connection with the Khanna campaign? You be the judge.

    Despite massive spending from their largely 1% donor base the Khanna campaign wasn’t able to get much traction for their candidate, so it seems the campaign resorted to dirty tricks like this.

    I can understand the anger of the Republican Party at the Khanna folks for propping up this fake candidate (Vanlandingham doesn’t appear to have raised money or even have a website like a serious candidate would). Just as Mike Honda has the overwhelming support of the Democratic Party, Republicans also want candidates who actually represent their Party’s positions and values.

  • Marga

    Margaret, you seem to believe that anyone who helps a candidate is a part of their campaign. You admitedly helped Honda, both by making sure that your club would not endorse Khanna and by trying to dig up dirt on Khanna. Using your logic, I can thus only conclude that you must be a part of Honda’s campaign.

    It’s pretty dirty of you to not disclose that you are writing as a Honda campaign operative.