Congressional candidate Ro Khanna’s supporters are abuzz over today’s San Jose Inside story that says Rep. Mike Honda’s staffers violated House rules against mixing campaign activity with official business.
Sourced from emails provided by a former Honda aide who says he quit after being pressured to help out on the campaign, the story’s most biting claim is that Honda’s chief of staff, Jennifer Van der Heide, early last year coordinated with Lamar Heystek, then the Honda campaign’s political director, on whom to invite to a State Department roundtable.
Heystek wrote that he had compiled “a list of South Asian tech/investment folks who’ve donated to candidates in the past” but not to Honda. Van der Heide replied, “Great lists — how are we doing outreach to them for $? Can we at least collect emails and send newsletters or something if we can’t do straight asks electronically now? Also do you have the list of the South Asians now endorsing/supporting MH? I want to make sure we are including all of them. Invites going out first thing Monday morning.”
This constitutes a mixing of official and campaign events that’s verboten under House ethics rules (House Ethics Manual, page 150), even though Van der Heide’s e-mails came from her personal account and not during work hours, the story says. Heystek left Honda’s campaign in March 2014.
Honda office spokesman Ken Scudder issued a statement Wednesday evening saying “it is the policy of the Congressman, and under the rules of House Ethics, for the office to keep separate official work and campaign activities.
“While it is commonplace for office staff to choose to volunteer their time on campaigns, all of our staff who volunteer do so on their own time and volition, and without the use of official resources,” the statement said. “In this instance, while not a violation of House Rules, we should have taken more care to prevent the appearance of coordination.”
Honda’s campaign declined to comment Wednesday, as did Khanna’s.
It’s not entirely clear what sort of influence Honda or his staff would’ve been peddling here; whether those who attended were eventually hit up for campaign donations; and if they were, whether and how much they gave.
Honda’s staff told San Jose Inside that the event in question was a Feb. 21, 2013 roundtable at Santa Clara University with Mitul Desai, who at the time was senior advisor for strategic partnership in the State Department’s South and Central Asian Bureau. (The event appears in San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra’s archived calendar for February 2013.)
Yet when Desai’s boss, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake Jr., joined Honda a month later to host a roundtable at Microsoft’s Sunnyvale campus on the U.S.-India relationship, Honda sent his constituents an e-newsletter basically inviting anyone who wanted to attend:
Nor is there evidence that Honda himself knew of the emails anytime before today. Still, there’s at least an appearance of impropriety if not an out-and-out ethical violation in official staffers and campaign staffers conferring about whom to invite to official events. Your thoughts, readers?