Sadako Sasaki was two years old when she survived an atomic bomb detonating a mile from her home in Hiroshima. Ten years would pass before she developed tumors and rashes on her skin. She was diagnosed with leukemia and radiation from the bomb was to blame. Bedridden, the little girl began to fold origami cranes. An ancient Japanese legend holds that anyone who creates 1,000 cranes will be granted one wish. Sadako’s only wish was to live.
Congressman Mike Honda has also has a “1000 Cranes” project, and he too wants to extend his life. His political life.
According to a transcript of a meeting between congressional ethics investigators and Ruchit Agrawal, the whistleblower in Honda’s ethics probe, the congressman and his campaign created a binder of highly valued donors, or “cranes,” to tap for campaign contributions. Honda's office has refused to return multiple calls for comment, but additional sources have confirmed the existence of this “1000 cranes” binder. The goal was to get 1,000 people to donate $1,000 each, which would then leave the campaign with a cool $1 million.
These donors would allegedly have greater access to Honda for favors after an election.
“As far as I know, it's the Congressman's idea,” Agrawal told investigators, according to an unedited transcript. “It's a thousand people give a thousand dollars that's a million dollars. A social network to provide a club for the cranes. Also to provide an ability for them to do the transactional work that's necessary. Hey, my relative needs a visa, I'm interested in this public policy. It's a place to keep the donors, they can talk. I don't know if formalized or not, if it was just an idea, but there definitely was a binder for it I saw.”
The use of the 1,000 cranes legend, which is associated in modern times with the tragic story of a young girl killed by war, and using it as a model for collecting campaign cash, could be seen as insensitive considering Honda's own background. He and his family were placed in a Japanese internment camp when Honda was an infant, and it's a story he has called upon throughout his political career.
According to the OCE transcript, investigators also took a keen interest in staff emails that referred to “friends of MH,” with the initials standing for Honda’s first and last names. These people could also be “cranes.” Considering Honda has hired some of the best congressional investigation attorneys money can buy, he may need to add more birds to his binder.
In just the second quarter of this year, Honda spent more than $65,000 on legal fees, which accounted for roughly 18 percent of the money he raised from April through June. Two of the three firms Honda hired, Brand Law Group and Miller & Chevalier, specialize in political scandals, with their clientele representing a who’s who of legislators who have been accused of breaking the rules.
According to records provided by the Federal Elections Commission, Brand Law Group has received almost $890,000 from some of Congress’ most investigated legislators going back to 2006. A small sample of the roster:
- Michigan Rep. John Conyers shelled out more than $99,000 over an eight-year period, with the highest single payment occurring during the same time his wife and then-Detroit city council president, Monica Conyers, was convicted on bribery charges.
- Former U.S. Senator Larry “wide stance” Craig burned through $101,000 in a four-month period after the former U.S. Senator made headlines for trying to hook up in a Minneapolis airport bathroom.
- Florida Rep. Rob Andrews racked up nearly $243,000 in fees over an eight-year period, before resigning last year while a House ethics probe looked into misuse of campaign funds.
- Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. brought the firm on sporadically between 2010 and 2012, before being sentenced to 30 months in federal prison for misusing $750,000 in campaign funds.
Honda’s other specialized firm, Miller & Chevalier, has received more than $35,000 in payments from the campaign as of June 30. The firm recently handled an OCE investigation of Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), who was also under investigation for commingling House duties and campaign work. She paid Brand Law Group $74,000 in legal fees and was reprimanded for interfering with the investigation.
The House Committee on Ethics announced Monday it will extend its investigation into Honda, with a report on where things proceed coming no later than Sept. 3.
As the ethics probe into Honda moves forward, investigators will now have the power to subpoena witnesses who declined to meet during the initial review. Sources tell Metro that several witnesses hope to be called back to tell their side of the story.
UPDATE: The headline for this story has been updated. Honda’s campaign spokesman, Adam Alberti, sent the following note Wednesday afternoon:
Your ignorance of Japanese culture not withstanding, your story today goes beyond the pale. Linking the name of a fundraising program to a young girl who fell victim at Hiroshima is not only crass and sloppy, it is offensive.
The “1000 cranes,” or “Senbazuru,” is an ancient Japanese cultural tradition that is used in many ways today, including for wedding anniversaries, births and to cure sicknesses. The tradition goes that the making of 1000 origami cranes is said to provide a wish from a crane for eternal good luck or even a cure from sickness.
Your inflammatory description that this practice was borne out of the tragedy of Hiroshima is wrong and shameful, particularly in context of the Congressman’s history.
The fact that the ancient traditional act was used by a survivor of the bombing and has become part of the “Hiroshima story” is totally appropriate and understandable considering the cultural significance. That, however, in no way means that it is the only context of the ancient tradition. If that were the interpretation than weddings, births and anniversaries throughout the Japanese community would be celebrating the use of nuclear bombs on their ancestors rather than providing them with eternal luck or best wishes intended.
You owe readers a correction and an apology for your offensive copy that demonstrates either a deep cultural ignorance or a deep political bias—perhaps it is both.