Report: ‘Substantial Reason to Believe’ Congressman Mike Honda, Staff Broke House Rules

The House Committee on Ethics announced Thursday that it will continue to investigate Congressman Mike Honda (D-San Jose) over allegations that he and his House staff misused official resources to coordinate a pay-to-play scheme with campaign donors.

In addition to transcripts and emails, the committee released a 41-page report from the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which in July recommended a further review after coming to the conclusion that there is “substantial reason to believe … Honda improperly tied official activities to past or potential political support.”

The report also noted a similar belief that Honda and his congressional staff “used official resources, including staff time, for campaign purposes.”

San Jose Inside first reported the alleged improprieties in Honda’s office last year, when emails provided by a former staffer showed Honda's chief of staff, Jennifer Van der Heide, and a campaign worker tied invitations to an official State Department event to campaign contributions.

The OCE report notes that Van der Heide basically wore two hats, one as chief of staff and the other as his campaign manager, in both the 2012 and 2014 election cycles.

One issue in which the OCE appeared to clear Honda was improperly using staff to run personal errands. Emails provided to San Jose Inside by a former Honda staffer, Ruchit Agrawal, showed discussions about setting up Honda’s Netflix account. Such actions would be violations of House rules, but are considered less important than the other actions the OCE believes Honda and staff carried out.

The House Committee on Ethics now retains the right to create a subcommittee to look into the matter, but there are no further requirements to publish reports or set a deadline for the release of information.

Honda’s campaign released a statement immediately after the report was published, urging patience with the process and suggesting the “issues alleged by the OCE appear to be largely clerical in nature, involving sloppiness by staff relating to administrative rules.”

Honda drew a far more confident line in his own comments in the press release: “The Office of Congressional Ethics draws no conclusions when it submits a matter to the Committee,” he said. “The issues addressed in the report simply do not represent congressional ethics violations.”

He added that he is “rightfully proud of my staff for being extraordinarily hard-working public servants, dedicated to constituent service, but they are not flawless.” As a result of those flaws, Honda instituted a new policy barring any staff from working on his current campaign, which pits him in a rematch against Ro Khanna.

Khanna released the following statement:

“This is a sad day for the Congress and the 17th district of California. While the parties in Washington don't agree on much, the bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics unanimously - every Republican and every Democrat - agreed that there is 'substantial reason to believe' Mike Honda violated the law, House rules and standards of conduct.  

“What's been uncovered in this investigation to this point, based solely on voluntary testimony, is highly disturbing. We are hopeful that with subpoena power the people can get to the full truth of the allegations that Mike Honda offered special access to his biggest donors and used his office for his own political gain.     

“But notwithstanding the evidence that Mike Honda has abused the trust placed in him, the fact is, this investigation will make it even harder for him to deliver results for the people he's meant to represent. At this critical time in our economy, the families of the 17th district need a fierce advocate for their jobs, not his own.”

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

6 Comments

  1. Congrats Josh & Metro. Days like this that highlight the value of your work.

  2. I understand the desperation of politicians… Anything goes, get re-elected no matter what because “So much is on the line” That’s a quote from another Josh article.

    Mike, you’re supposed to give equal time and consideration to anyone in your district that asks for it. You barely gave me any, just had Maben write me a letter saying, “Copyright is complicated and we don’t want to touch it” Yet congress IS who created the Perofrmance Rights Organizations for music. Ball was in your court and your dropped it.

    As many times as I met you publicly, I watched you change slowly over the years. You went from a average Joe who would wait his turn in the “Karaoke Line” into the guy that demanded, “I WILL GO NEXT BECAUSE I AM MIKE!”

    I hope you meditate on that, and come to the conclusion that whatever it is you “Have on the line” isn’t worth it if you let your personality become one of entitlement, and not one of enlightenment.

  3. Sad that the ethics committee won’t stand up for legislative staff who end up having to take care of the boss’ personal errands. Way too many elected officials gain a sense of entitlement and end up treating their aides as servants.

  4. Josh and SJI, Now what are you going to do with all of the Tar and Feathers you had waiting for this report, from the House of Ethics Committee to condemn Mike Honda.. You might consider using them on the City Council and Mayor, for holding out. Or the Wheel Chair bound Racist, at the Donut Shop on Alum Rock Ave. Hey!, If you have any left, how about Apple, for holding out on all that cash off shore, hoping Ro will get elected and lower the tax hit on corporations that exploit, worker in China, and sell their crap to the uncaring masses here , in what used to be a proud nation of folks of many nationalities. While Trump, is correct about labeling the corporation as takers, He will not become President, but by God he is desimating the GOP, the way of the African Elephant, to extinction!
    As I said,” Different $hit, Same ole Flys!”

  5. We have term limits for state senators and assembly members. I would like to see term limits for federal offices too. That would help senators and congressional representatives to retire gracefully, rather than continue to run over and over.