Congressman Under Fire: The Case Against Rep. Mike Honda

Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) is under fire after his legislative staff became a runaway train, transforming itself into a campaign squadron to fend off a 2014 election challenge by Ro Khanna.

A committee investigating matters that were first raised in a San Jose Inside report nearly a year ago concluded that there’s reason to believe that “Representative Honda and members of his congressional staff used official resources, including staff time, to benefit his campaign” and “improperly linked official activities to campaign or political support.”

Bay Area News Group’s Josh Richman called it “arguably the most significant allegations any Bay Area House member has faced in decades.”

Mike Honda

Mike Honda

The congressional office had established Dropbox and Google Docs accounts. Control of the accounts—set up at public expense—was transferred to the re-election organization and became a back channel for the transfer of information from the team responsible for carrying out the public’s business to the one tasked with winning an election.

According to testimony in an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation, congressional staff also prepared issue-by-issue comparisons between Honda and Khanna that were used as talking points at fundraising events. Staffers collected business cards from constituents who contacted the office for help, then handed them off as donation prospect leads. They sought to parse ethics guidelines so that the solicitation of donations from constituents seeking help would not appear “transactional.”

Honda’s staff attempted to leverage a visa assist for a San Jose Sharks player into contributions from former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery and other owners of the hockey team. “I know we’ve tried with them before to no avail but once again we’ve responded to Tom’s request," Meri Maben, Honda’s former district director, wrote in an email.“Please ask Tom to come to birthday event and bring Sharks people. Woman below appears to be one of the owners.”

Staff members appear to have been aware they were crossing the line into gray areas and sought to keep their communications out of view. On one particularly sensitive topic, Van der Heide instructed that information be sent to her 12-year-old daughter’s email address.

Congressional staff members played dual roles and volunteered their nights and weekends to help their boss get re-elected. One staff member said that, while voluntary, he feared that if he said no to Van der Heide’s request for unpaid work beyond his paid hours, “I would need to find a new job after that. So I could say no, but that meant that the job maybe wasn't necessarily for me.”

Weekday time was fair game as well. Officially convened business meetings could be transformed into campaign strategy talks simply by raising a coffee cup and invoking the coded phrase “coffee break” (wink, wink) to circumvent congressional ethics rules about not campaigning on the public’s dime. Current and former staff members have admitted that campaign strategy was discussed at official retreats.

For a week in April 2015, a team of investigators deposed witnesses, including the congressman himself, about the commingling of official and campaign duties, producing hundreds of pages of legal transcripts.

Two prospective witnesses refused to appear, and the committee recommended they be subpoenaed to appear as the investigation continues. Another three of the 12 witnesses whose testimony was included in the report refused to sign an acknowledgement of receipt of a copy of the Federal False Statements Act, violators of which can face jail terms. Two of the three refuseniks were Honda’s closest long-term political associates: Chief of Staff Van der Heide and former District Director Maben.

Coached by attorneys, who occasionally interjected, the witnesses’ answers are frequently variations of “I don’t know,” “I’m not sure” and “I can’t recall.”

The investigators analyzed emails and other electronic data and wrapped up the report on May 29. The committee’s conclusion, by a 6-0 vote announced last week: Investigate further.

The now-public report looks at four events where politics and official business may have been mixed: a State Department Roundtable at which Indo-American campaign donors were targeted; an Alameda Labor Council breakfast function; a League of Conservation Voter’s Victory Fund “Countdown to Election Day” reception; and a fundraising event at Dr. Pritpal Singh’s Milpitas home.

In a particularly egregious violation, Honda’s digital strategy director witnessed phone banking sheets being printed out at the congressional office.

In November 2014, voters in the district returned Honda to Congress by a slim 4-point margin.

Honda’s victory speech was anything but gracious. “Together, we sent a message that this election could not be bought by Super PACs and right-wing millionaires and billionaires,” he said.

What Honda appears to have left out is that, if his own team’s testimony is to be believed, taxpayer-funded employees engaging in prohibited activities were instrumental in enabling his return to Congress. Another stolen Silicon Valley election.

WHAT THE REPORT REVEALED

  • Congressional staff-prepared side-by-side issue comparisons between Honda and Khanna for the campaign’s use
  • A Google Drive back channel for moving information between the campaign and House staffs
  • A Dropbox account that was set up as an official account, then re-passworded and turned over to the campaign
  • Staff meetings that were used to review campaign activities
  • Office retreats at which the campaign was discussed
  • An expectation that staff would read books and volunteer for the campaign
  • A chief of staff who served double duty as campaign manager
  • A district office manager, Meri Maben, who was clearly political
  • Tracking of “donation history” of Indo- and Chinese-American attendees at events via Google Docs spreadsheets

38 Comments

  1. How stupid do you think your readers are? The powers that be have wanted Honda out of office for quite some time, and the MN and SJI have been conducting a relentless PR campaign to try to achieve that goal, Despite those efforts, however, Honda still beat Khanna, which only resulted in the heart being turned up even further.

    I’m sure Honda did violate some minor rules, but the list of revelations above sounds a lot like what I would imagine goes on in any politician’s office. The campaign was discussed during an office retreat? That’s quite a bombshell.

    Khanna obviously has some rich and powerful friends, but I wonder why they want so desperately to get him elected? Are they interested in achieving what’s best for the public, or would they much prefer having a friend in office to someone who apparently doesn’t do them any favors? But I’m sure, if elected, Khanna wouldn’t think of giving any special consideration to those got him the job, right?

    • If Honda and his supporters are going to try to answer this scandal by deflecting to Khanna and claiming “this is what I would have expected from any Congressman”, then they don’t get it. The rules are there for a reason! Maybe you don’t expect your Congressman to follow the rules, but I do.

      • Scandal? I think you’re overstating it a bit. If so little was discovered that discussion of the campaign during an office retreat makes this list, that’s not much of a list.

        • The point is what was discussed at the office retreat was how to use official events to help campaign raise money, not just that campaign was discussed at an office retreat.

          “Then the questioners moved in for the kill. What about the notes for a presentation at the 2013 retreat that included this line from his campaign manager: “DC makes policy — we do events — Campaign takes DO (district office) events and uses them to raise $.”

          Saying he hadn’t seen the document before, Honda didn’t even bother to defend himself. “It’s open to a lot of interpretation, but it doesn’t look good,” he told the probers.” (http://www.mercurynews.com/scott-herhold/ci_28768128/mike-honda-is-pulled-into-an-ethics-quagmire)

          • Please… you really cannot legitimately express disbelief in Honda or any politician saying, “I haven’t seen the socument.”

            These clowns say that all the time with legislation they pass and their supporters (and journos) practically applaud them for it!

        • A nonpartisan government office who investigated Honda said there was a “substantial reason to believe” that Honda violated house rules, and a bipartisan six-person committee voted unanimously to continue the investigation. If you think that it’s overstating it to call it a scandal, you have your head in the sand.

          If you think this is only about the campaign being discussed at an office retreat, then you have not read into this at all. It’s obvious you’re trying to face a strawman because the truth is so much harder to confront — that Honda used his congressional powers to make blatant and arrogant pay-to-play “transactions” in order to raise money for his campaign. If this really wasn’t a scandal, you would address that instead of pretending that all he did was talk about his campaign on a staff retreat.

        • So, Pete, you would favor not prosecuting misdemeanors at all any more because they’re “not much of a “crime?

      • “The rules are there for a reason!”

        Why has it taken you so long to come to this epiphany?

        • WeedMan: remember “it depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is”?

    • Nice try to make this about Khanna and his supporters. Did you say how stupid readers are? Tell that to yourself. You must think voters cannot understand the extent of corruption that has transpired in Honda’s office. Your argument that these are minor violations and happens all the time is exactly what’s wrong with congress right now. Neither this is an effort by local newspapers, investigation was done by bipartisan office in DC and the decision was unanimous. Voters may be willing to give Honda a pass for not showing up to work or not having townhalls. They may even be willing to forgive him for sleeping on his job but make no mistake, no one will tolerate a corrupt politician. Honda is going to get the boot this time for sure. Stop making excuses for bad behavior because it reflects poorly on you.

      • Shobana claimed: “but make no mistake, no one will tolerate a corrupt politician.” Dream on! Corrupt politicians have been tolerated for centuries. The Village Blacksmith, Gil Hernandez, will tolerate anything bad Honda does, and tolerate the fact that in 14 years he has had only one bill he sponsored get out of committee, just because Martini & Karaoke Mike championed Gil’s fight against lead paint in Eastside SJ. A one trick pony is good enough for Gil, and for lots of voters in this country if that is their single important issue. Just look at Louisiana in general and New Orleans in particular. A few years back in one election, a gubernatorial candidate, a US Senatorial candidate, and a mayoral candidate in New Orleans were all re-elected while under federal indictment for corruption.

    • Pete Malloy: remember when your mama asked: “If your friends all jumped off the bridge would you do so too?” Your view seems to be that as long as everyone else is disobeying the law, it’s all right for Martini Mike to do so as well. It’s people like you and Gil Hernandez (Village Black Smith) who keep re-electing him despite the fact that Martini Mike’s ethics and good judgment are clearly lacking. Gil’s single issue is lead paint destroying Eastside kids’ brains. It’s a valid issue. However, Honda is so clearly deficient overall that being right on one issue should not result in the re-election of an otherwise completely undistinguished Congressman. So, what single issue that Martini Mike and you agree upon compels you to continue to support a clearly ethically challenged guy? Sure, there are lots of other ethically challenged people in government. Does that mean if we can’t get rid of them all at the same time with the wave of a magic wand we should let them all remain as the people who govern us? I am not a fan of Ro Khanna, but Honda clearly doesn’t get it, and he has to go.

      • I don’t care at all about Honda and I don’t live in his district. I’m just not naive enough to fall for the well organized anti-Honda campaign being financed by the rich and powerful and publicized by the so-called “journalists” at the MN and SJI. if you want believe that the goal here is the public good, go right ahead.

        • The Office of Congressional Ethics and then the House Ethics Committee are unimpeachable authorities on House rules. If you are still writing this off as nothing, then you are out of touch to an irrational degree.

  2. This is not a problem. Of course he’s a crook, and it doesn’t matter. People knowingly vote for crooks all the time. Honda will continue to be reelected. Nobody cares.

  3. Rules? Rules are for looser’s to complain about, and keep incumbents in office.
    If we follow the Chicago rule it would be one turn in office and one turn in the big house.

  4. Let’s be honest, Honda has outlived his effectiveness. It is time to rid ourselves of these career politicians.

    • Sal Donovan—please tell us all when Honda was effective, except as a bag man for the Democratic leadership. The single Honda sponsored bill that made it out of committee in 14 years? Was that it?

  5. JMO,
    WHAT MIKE HONDA HAS DONE IN THE LAST 30 PLUS YEARS , IN RAISING AWARENESS, OF THE BRAIN CHANGINE EFFECTS OF LEAD IN A CHILDS BRAIN DEVELOPMENT, IS NEXT TO GODLINESS. THERE ARE CHILDREN , TODAY THAT WERE PROTECTED , DUE TO MIKE’S WORK IN THAT HORRIFIC STRUGGLE . MANY OF THOSE CHILDREN THAT MADE IT THROUGH THE 6MO – 6YEARS OLD WITH OUT DEVELOPING A TWISTED BRAINS, DUE TO THE EFFECTS OF LEAD POISONING, ARE AT THE POLLS. NOW. COUPLE THAT WITH THE TECH WORKERS THAT ARE SYSTEMATICLY BEING REPLACED WITH H-1B WORKERS FROM INDIA, IN SILICON VALLEY, AND YOU HAVE THE MAKINGS OF A VICTORY FOR, MIKE HONDA.

    DAN,
    I HAVE BEEN POSTING, ALONG WITH BUD, ON THE HORRORS OF TOXIC LEAD POISONING OF CHILDREN UNDER 6 YEARS OLD, AND WAS MET WITH SO MUCH CYNICLE REMARKS ON THIS SITE. BUT ENOUGH SAID.

    RO KHANNA, IS SLICK, BUT IT APPEARS HE IS BEING COVERED , BY PRESS THAT UNDERSTANDS HIS GANG OF RELIGIOUS BACKERS IN FREMONT. iT IS GOOD READING ON THE WEB.
    IN MY DIGGINGS AFTER BEING CHALLENGED BY JMO AND A FEW OTHER DECIPLES OF KHANNA. I PUNCHED IN ANY NUMBER OF TASKS FOR GOOGLE TO PRESENT, TO MY SCREEN RELATING TO RO’S PURPOSE FOR SEEKING HONDA’S SEAT.
    I WELCOME THE ATTACKS BY SJI BLOGERS., THAT WANT RO KHANNA IN THE DRIVERS SEAT.
    , U.S.A CORPORATIONS HOLDING 300 BILLION IN OFF SHORE CASH IN UNPAID TAXES TO OUR COUNTRY, BECAUSE THEY WANT TO CHANGE THE RULES, IS WHY THEY WANT KHANNA AS THEIR BOY. HE HAS ALREADY STATED TO THE NEW YOUK TIMES , THAT HE WANTS TO MINIMIZE THE TAX ON OFF SHORE PROFITS FOR US CORPORATIONS.
    DO NOT BE SURPRISED TO SEE SILICON VALLEY PUT ON A SHOW FOR THE INDIAN H-IB
    PROGRAMS VERY SOON. KHANNA HAS BECOME A LIABILITY, AND NEEDS SUPPORT FROM HIS COMRADS, TO TRY TO UNSEAT OUR CHAMPION MIKE HONDA.
    STAY TUNED !!

    GIL HERNANDEZ
    http://WWW.SOUTHBAYBRONZE.COM
    THE VILLAGE BLACK SMITH

    • There is a reason a congressman’s term of office is 2 years, it’s not to honer him for what he did 30 years ago.
      It’s to get rid of him for what he did wrong the last 2 years.

      I think you just did a great job of pointing that out!

      • Emptygun,, I was simply pointing out JMOs passive aggressive comment to bring me down to his wine supped intelligence level. You should know, that because of Mike Honda’s early work with babies and toxic lead, many programs have emerged to continue, to TODAY.
        You are a critical $OB, without any skills in community.
        Crawl back into your hole, and leave this to the folks that understand, what is at stake for our community’s Children.

        • Mr Smith,
          You’ve been sucking up to much of your mothers leaded wine, perhaps you hadn’t noticed that Mr Honda and his kind have been selling your children’s future for a cheap vote for quite a while now.
          Your grand children are going to pay for your stupidity.

    • Gil: what Mike Honda has accomplished with raising awareness of the toxic effects of lead may make him a good person. It does not make him a good Congressman. Inside Gov recently compiled a list ranking the effectiveness of all 535 members of Congress; that’s both House and Senate. Effectiveness was judged by the number of bills each member sponsored that managed to get through committee, and thus to a vote. Mike Honda has had only one bill he sponsored get through committee in the 14 years he has allegedly “served” his district. Of the 35 LEAST effective members of Congress, California has 8, or just under 23% of them. The California delegation is the largest of all the state delegations, and is overwhelmingly represented by Democrats—41 of 53 are Democrats.

    • We elect the members of Congress to lead the nation. Sorry, Gil, but your one trick pony Mike Honda is not a leader. He’s a follower, when he’s awake. In 14 years he has been assigned to very few committees by the leadership of his own party; and he has never chaired a committee. He’s just a lead paint hatin’, party lovin’, karaoke singin’ bag man. That’s IT! His district deserves better

  6. Of course the House Ethics Committee is not unimpeachable.
    From just this year, reported by USA Today:

    “WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee failed to follow its own rules requiring lawmakers to seek pre-clearance for privately funded travel in 2013, records show, a lapse that now may have the committee in the peculiar position of investigating itself.

    House rules created in December 2012 require all members who want to go on trips paid for by private groups, not the government, to seek clearance from the Ethics Committee at least 30 days before the trip. But records analyzed by USA TODAY show that when 10 members and their staffers went on a May 2013 trip to Azerbaijan, the committee was not enforcing that standard.”

    Personally, I’d like to see the House Ethics Committee have a means to operate by lot as well as for cause. I think the presumption that political ethics problems are occasional is laughably inaccurate, and selecting politicians at random to audit would improve everyone’s game.

  7. Not that anyone needs to hear what DaPoodle thinks but, well, I got my paws on the keyboard so I going for it…

    You know who we have not heard from yet? Nancy Pelosi. Remember when she drove that Wiener back to New York for some tweets that violated no rules or even impacted his District. She was all over that goober.

    But here, in her backyard? (crickets) (crickets). I think I know why: Old Mikey has photos of the Pelosi cat and Nancy in matching Halloween costumes. Sooo cute! Wait, which one is the cat?!?

    When one is an elected official, don’t crap while doing the People’s business…. it’s that simple. Mike Honda put himself ahead of the People…. he IS the weakest link, goodbye!

    Even a poodle dog like me can see this.

    Wait, is the Pelosi cat named Pete Malloy?

  8. The entire Honda/Khanna dustup was designed to gracefully hand off the progressive mantle to a new generation. Enact new election laws so that neither candidate had to address fiscal constraints, civil liberties, free market economics, or laissez faire regulation against a libertarian/conservative candidate — let the first and second slots for the general belong to progressives. Then, have Khanna attack Honda for being a party apparatchik….when that was the nature of the position to which Khanna aspired.

    Well, it failed. Honda won in 2012, 159K to 57K, against a nominally Republican opponent. In 2014, he won against Khanna by 69,561 to 64,847. But the real news is in the total — Honda and Khanna TOGETHER took in fewer votes in 2014 than Honda won in 2012.

  9. Khanna is a LOSER. the Hugh corporations know that, he is not a JFK. he is simply a puppet, that said, He wants to decrease the tax paid by the silicon valley corporation.. Every one knows why the prestigeous companies have thrown money at this ner do well. it has nothing to do with MIKE Honda. THEY WANT POWER IN Washington, AND BY god THEY WILL GET IT. THE SJI, MERKY NEWs, are in it for the entire ride.
    When you are ready to make up your mind, between Honda and Khanna, think about who, is best for AMERICA..
    H-1Bs are but the tip of the iceburg.. Our own BORN IN THE USA, corporations, are giving our country the TAX SHAFT!

    God forgive us for what we have done to this great country of ours.
    I know this, after I return from Salmon fishing out of the GOLDEN GATE, tomorrow, it’s back to my Anvil. I have not left America.
    My taxes are paid, my bills are paid, and my community is safe from the ugly effects of slum lord lead poisoning , Maybe!
    Mike Honda,, let’s do our job for our country.
    Join us if you believe in our journey.

    • Gil, you analysis of Khanna as a “Loser” lacks any facts or intelligence. It’s just your personal love for Honda (on one issue) and your rabid defense of him without actually getting to know Khanna personally or study his policies. If you wish to write ignorant, racists and xenophobic responses, there’s nothing any of us can do. Once again, I’d recommend seeing a doctor for that big hole in your head created by your dropping your anvil a few too many times.

      In choosing between Khanna and Honda, I for one will choose a highly educated, brilliant, ethical, next generation leader like Khanna over a lazy, unintelligent, corrupt, past his expiration date politician in Honda every day of the week. There was a time for Honda. That has long LONG passed. It is time for Honda to go. It’s just sad that he had to stay too long that all of his illegal, immoral, unethical practices have come to light.

    • Mr Smith,
      Judging by the rest of you ranting, I think you should have yourself tested for Mercury poisoning from the fish your eating. Layoff the endangered salmon, and stop sniffing the smoke from your forge.

    • Please understand “The Village idiot posts with a .28 alcohol level running through his veins.”

  10. I support Mike Honda for reelection based solely on his voting record over the years. He’s excellent and cannot be surpassed in his defense of the separation of church and state. And he’s very good on other issues as well. Whether it’s your bills or someone else’s bills, voting is what matters in the Congress. I understand that Ro Khanna wants Honda’s seat, but I suggest they each be judged by their positions on legislation. Doing so and, assuming you care about issues, I believe Honda is the best choice.

  11. > but I suggest they each be judged by their positions on legislation.
    . . .
    > assuming you care about issues, I believe Honda is the best choice.

    On what issues and what legislation do Honda and Khanna disagree?

  12. How many of you critical knuckle head, have done your home, on Khanna’s asperation, to get Silicon Valley’s Corp. Taxes down from 35% down to 5%. On off shore profits, 225 Billion, by his Corp.supporters.
    Win or loose, it is you nameless jerks, that have shown your stupidity, and the arogance, of fair play. The tar and feather brigade! A sickness !
    You have carried on as though you believe every one is ignorant of understanding the dynamics, of the hearts of men that serve.
    JMO, YOU LEAD LIKE A GUY THAT BELIEVES, ANYONE WILL FOLLOW IN YOUR FOOT STEPS OF CRITICISM. YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN SO HARD ON YOUR SELF. TAKE A BREAK. VOLUNTEER for SOMETHING.POSITIVE.
    The debates tonight brought me back, to this Rag.
    Trump got trumped, and Stumped, tonight.
    Flint Michigan , has noting on Silicon Valley, where our children have suffered the Ill, effects of lead. MIKE HONDA IS OUR CHAMPION LEADING THE CHARGE TO SAVE OUR CHILDREN .
    LAY OFF THE SAUCE AND DO SOME RESEARCH.
    GIL HERNANDEZ