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.”