8

CA17: New pay-to-play claims against Honda

Rep. Mike Honda gave preferential treatment to campaign donors, according to a report published Wednesday by San Jose Inside.

honda.jpgThe alternate weekly says an anonymous source provided Honda’s “1,000 Cranes” database – a list of donors who’ve given at least $1,000 each, and the basis of accusations that Honda, D-San Jose, engaged in pay-to-play politics. The list’s existence was disclosed in an Office of Congressional Ethics report which became public in September.

The OCE report had revealed that the list, which Honda said was a personal effort he shared only with a campaign official, actually was discussed at an official staff retreat in 2012. Notes from that retreat obtained by investigators say “to work, it will require MH to use his personal touch … also will likely be transactional — i.e. help me with this visa for my grandma.”

Honda remains under investigation by the House Ethics Committee regarding whether interactions between his office and his campaign violated House rules or federal law, even as he tries to fend off a second electoral challenge from fellow Democrat Ro Khanna.

San Jose Inside’s report says Honda’s list actually consisted of contact information for 281 people and groups who’d supported his re-election bids in 2010 and 2012. Reporter Josh Koehn then listed several instances in which people on that list seemed to be cozy with Honda, ranging from the lawmaker wishing his biggest 2010 donor a happy birthday on the House floor, to an s unsuccessful Honda bill backed by two of the “cranes.” It also notes that the only bill introduced by Honda that’s been directly signed into law – to name a San Jose post office after Gordon Chan in 2009 – was followed by substantial donations by Chan’s widow in 2010 and 2012.

Most if not all members of Congress keep lists of big donors, and most if not all take money before or after saying or doing something complimentary or beneficial to the donor. It can be unsettling or unseemly, but it’s only illegal if there’s a direct, proven quid pro quo – hard evidence that the lawmaker demanded money in return for favors, or that a donor offered money for a specific official action and the lawmaker accepted. So far, there’s no such evidence for Honda.

“It seems to me there are some links missing in the chain,” said Larry Gerston, a San Jose State University professor emeritus of political science who has followed the district closely. “I’m not so sure that this alone tells us anything terrible is amiss.”

“People contribute to people running for office – that’s as old as anything we know about politics – and people in positions of power introduce legislation or commendations for people who help them get elected,” he said. “But this doesn’t say a whole lot more than that. And how many times did Congressman Honda propose legislation or offer commendations for people who didn’t contribute $1,000 or more?”

Hari Sevugan, spokesman for Khanna’s campaign, said Wednesday that “the evidence of Mike Honda engaging in multiple pay-to-play relationships with his top donors is deeply disturbing and raises more questions than answers.”

“But what we know for sure are his priorities,” Sevugan continued. “We’ve now learned of five instances of Mike Honda doing special favors for his top contributors. All while he’s passed just one bill in his 15 years in Congress. To name a post office. After the family member of a contributor. That says it all.”

Michael Beckendorf, Honda’s campaign manager, said the list on which the San Jose Inside report was based is “nothing more than a list of donors that anyone could obtain from public record.”

“We can only wonder what nickname Ro Khanna gives his list of ultra conservative millionaire and billionaire backers,” Beckendorf added. “It’s no wonder Khanna opposes raising taxes on the richest two percent and puts corporations and the wealthy ahead of the middle class. Congressman Honda is the only candidate in this race who has a record of standing up for working class Americans and delivering for Silicon Valley.”

Meanwhile, the campaign grinds slowly onward.

Honda announced endorsements this week from Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison, Newark Mayor Alan Nagy, Sunnyvale Mayor Jim Griffith, and Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews, whose cities account for a majority of the 17th Congressional District’s registered voters.

In a news release, Harrison praised Honda’s support of the Warm Springs BART Station and advocacy in revitalizing Fremont’s high-tech manufacturing industry, while Nagy said Honda is dedicated to “expanding opportunities for people of all backgrounds.” Griffith said Honda has been “an active and visible leader in Sunnyvale” who understands the region and its residents, and Matthews said Honda has fought to fund crucial Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority projects as well as to prevent closure of the post office at Franklin Mall.

And Ron Cohen, a Fremont accountant and Republican candidate in this race, filed a complaint Sunday claiming that a mailer Honda sent at taxpayers’ expense as “franked mail” was actually a campaign communication.

“Rather than a specific discussion in his own words of this views and beliefs on legislative matters, the vast majority of the piece I received is a series of quotations of reports by news outlets and related pictures … which I would argue are campaign-like promotional statements,” Cohen wrote to the OCE.

11

Swalwell denies claim of ‘pay-to-play’ in Dublin

Steven Tavares has an interesting story on the 15th Congressional District race in today’s East Bay Express:

On June 5, just hours after casting a vote for himself in the East Bay’s 15th Congressional District primary against incumbent Congressman Pete Stark, Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell voted to approve a no-bid, monopoly contract to a local garbage company while members of that firm’s upper management sat in attendance. Swalwell, however, never publicly disclosed that those four top-level employees of Amador Valley Industries were large contributors to his congressional campaign in the months before the deal. Also in attendance was a consultant for the garbage company who not only had recently donated to Swalwell, but also has a history of violating campaign finance laws.

[snip]

In some cities, including Oakland, what AVI and Swalwell did would have been illegal. It’s unlawful in those cities for a prospective government contractor, such as AVI, to make donations to councilmembers’ political campaigns in the months before those councilmembers vote on the actual contract. Good government advocates throughout California have pushed hard over the years to eliminate this type of pay-to-play politics.

Dublin, however, has no such prohibition. The city allows councilmembers to take donations from government contractors and then vote to award public contracts to those companies, said Jim Bakker, Dublin’s city attorney.

“A respected regional newspaper is raising new and troubling questions about Eric Swalwell’s role in pay-to-play for municipal contracts,” Michael Terris, Stark’s campaign consultant, said today. “Swalwell has thrown a lot of mud in this campaign, but he owes voters real answers to these serious allegations. An unregistered lobbyist for garbage contractors, whose owners and employees have donated $15,000 to Swalwell’s campaign, even raises questions about Swalwell’s integrity for failing to disclose major contributions while voting on no-bid contracts.”

Eric Swalwell Swalwell campaign manager Lisa Tucker, when asked today if there was any connection between the contributions and Swalwell’s vote, replied, “Absolutely not.” She noted that the agenda item on which he voted was initiated by the city’s staff, not by any member of the council, and that the vote was 4-1, so Swalwell’s wasn’t the deciding vote.

“Every contribution Eric received was disclosed properly to the public prior to the meeting,” she said, referring to Swalwell’s mandatory campaign finance filings to the Federal Election Commission.

Asked whether Swalwell had any ethical obligation to verbally disclose the contributions before casting that vote, Tucker noted that Swalwell is an Alameda County prosecutor and insisted he “has followed every ethics and disclosure law before taking the vote. Eric is proud that his support comes from individuals, compared to 65 percent of Congressman Stark’s contributions come from PACs, including almost $200,000 from health professionals with issues before his subcommittee.”

“Every claim Rep. Stark has made against Eric has resulted in him apologizing or has been debunked by a third-party media source,” she said. “This claim, by a blogger with a demonstrated bias on his blog for Rep. Stark, is an extension of Rep. Stark’s efforts to deceive voters.”

Tucker was referring to Tavares’ East Bay Citizen, where he has covered this race extensively both through news articles and pro-Stark opinion pieces.

Tavares’ story today in the Express notes that Stark in April – two months before Swalwell cast this vote – had gotten into hot water for claiming at a debate that Swalwell had accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes,” a claim he later acknowledged was unsubstantiated and for which he apologized.

Here are the AVI-related donations I’ve been able to find at a glance, some that occurred before the June 5 vote and some that occurred afterward:

  • Robert J. Molinaro, Pleasanton, president, Pleasanton Garbage Service, 9/27/11, $2,500
  • Anthony Macchiano, Pleasanton, VP, Pleasanton Garbage Service, 9/27/11, $2,500
  • Gina Cardera, Livermore, manager, Amador Valley Industries, 9/27/11, $250
  • John R. Repetto, Pleasanton, route manager, Amador Valley Industries, 9/27/11, $250
  • Gordon Galvan, Castro Valley, consultant to Amador Valley Industries, 11/30/11, $1,000
  • Gina Cardera, Livermore, manager, Amador Valley Industries, 12/30/11, $1,000
  • Carol Molinaro, Pleasanton, homemaker, 1/31/12, $250
  • Carol Molinaro, Pleasanton, homemaker, 3/21/12, $250
  • Gordon Galvan, Castro Valley, consultant to Amador Valley Industries, 3/28/12, $1,000
  • Gordon Galvan, Castro Valley, consultant to Amador Valley Industries, 5/9/12, $500
  • Carol Molinaro, Pleasanton, homemaker, 5/10/12, $250
  • Anthony Macchiano, Pleasanton, owner, M&M Land, 5/22/12, $250
  • Robert J. Molinaro, Pleasanton, president, Pleasanton Garbage Service, 6/27/12 $2,500
  • Anthony Macchiano, Pleasanton, owner, M&M Land, 6/30/12, $2,500
  • (Anthony Macchiano, Pleasanton, owner, M&M Land, 7/2012, refund $250)
  • Anthony Macchiano, Pleasanton, owner, M&M Land, 9/29/12, $250
  • The Express story also included this:

    Even a paid consultant for AVI, Gordon Galvan, who also donated to Swalwell, distanced himself from Swalwell’s failure to disclose his ties to AVI. “If he didn’t disclose it, I think that is wrong. It’s all on him,” said Galvan, who gave Swalwell the legal federal limit of $2,500 in successive years totaling $5,000. “The ethical thing to do is — I would have said, ‘These are people who have contributed to my congressional campaign and it has nothing to do with the City of Dublin or my vote.'”

    Nonetheless, Galvan, who is also a lobbyist and a former San Leandro councilman, characterized what Swalwell and AVI did as being no big deal. “It’s a dynamic that happens all the time,” said Galvan, adding that he believes Swalwell has been at a financial disadvantage during the campaign because of Stark’s political connections. “[Swalwell] can’t get PAC money because it’s a good ol’ boys’ network. If you’re a forty-year incumbent you have access to all that money. To me, that’s a lot dirtier.”

    Galvan today said he had told Tavares that if Swalwell was legally obliged to report the contributions and hadn’t, then that would be on him – but that’s not the case here.

    “I’m supporting Swalwell, so why would I say something that calls into question his ethics?” Galvan said. “It makes it sounds like I’m questioning Swalwell’s ethics or I think he did something illegal, and that’s not true at all … I didn’t say anything like that.”