In a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court, the campaign of Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) accused his opponent’s campaign manager of illegally downloading private fundraising data and using it to contact the congressman’s backers.
Ro Khanna and campaign chief, Brian Parvizshahi, broke the federal Economic Espionage Act and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by stealing proprietary information on nearly 10,000 Honda supporters, according to the complaint. (UPDATE: Parvizshahi resigned from the Khanna campaign Thursday evening. See the full statement below.)
At the heart of the allegations is Parvizshahi, who became an intern for a Democratic consulting firm called Arum Group upon graduating from Cal State Fullerton in 2012. Before accessing client information, the lawsuit states, he had to sign a confidentiality agreement. But when he quit a month later, he allegedly kept accessing the password-protected Dropbox account with Honda’s records.
Nearly two years later, Parvizshahi began working for Khanna’s campaign to oust Honda from Silicon Valley’s 17th Congressional District. After switching to team Khanna in January 2014, Parvizshahi allegedly kept logging into that Dropbox file. According to the lawsuit, he accessed them 44 times before the breach was discovered this past May.
Signs of trouble, however, surfaced almost a year ago.
In October 2015, Honda’s campaign fielded calls from supporters wondering why they were getting emails from Khanna’s camp. These messages were reportedly sent to personal accounts, which are exempt from disclosure requirements for people who donate $200 or more to a campaign.
Concerns intensified a couple of months later, according to the lawsuit, when San Jose Inside published a list of Honda’s biggest donors. The “1,000 Cranes” dossier named people who paid $1,000 or more, apparently in exchange for special treatment from the eight-term congressman.
The list of 281 donors was mailed anonymously to Metro Silicon Valley, San Jose Inside’s parent newspaper. The list included names, nicknames, employer information, home addresses, and home and cellphone numbers of Honda’s most generous donors from 2010 to 2012. San Jose Inside’s report redacted most of this personal information. According to the lawsuit, Parvizshahi downloaded a document identical to the one mailed to San Jose Inside last year.
Yet five more months passed before anyone noticed the unauthorized Dropbox use. On May 31 of this year, a Honda fundraising consultant got an automated notice that a Dropbox file had been modified, allegedly by Parvizshahi.
Much of the attention in the Khanna-Honda rematch has focused on the incumbent’s ethics scandal, as the House Committee on Ethics has been investigating alleged pay-to-play activity in Honda’s office for more than year.
Honda’s campaign manager, Michael Beckendorf, said the findings noted in the lawsuit reflect poorly on Khanna’s candidacy.
“Relying on illegal tactics to propel his campaign is deplorable and unbecoming of Congress,” Beckendorf wrote in a statement Thursday. “Silicon Valley voters deserve better and are owed an explanation for the actions of his campaign.”
Requests for comment from the Khanna campaign were not immediately returned.
Click here to read the entire complaint.
UPDATE: Ro Khanna’s campaign announced Thursday evening that campaign manager Brian Parvizshahi has resigned. Below is the statement:
“At his request, Brian Parvizshahi will step down as campaign manager. By filling this lawsuit with six weeks to go and down in the polls, he believes Mike Honda is trying to distract voters from the ongoing ethics investigation into how he sold special governmental access to his VIP donors after accepting $3 million in PAC contributions. And Brian will not let Mike Honda use him to distract voters from the need for real change.”
Josh Koehn contributed to this report.