We already know Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) has spent tens of thousands of campaign dollars to defend himself from a House ethics investigation. No later than Thursday we'll learn if he’ll need to keep throwing cash at the problem.
Late last year, San Jose Inside published emails from a former employee in Honda’s office that showed the eight-term congressman’s House staff and political campaign coordinated on official events to line up influential South Asian donors. Other emails showed that Honda had his congressional staff conduct a variety of personal errands on his behalf, and his chief of staff, Jennifer Van Der Heide, routinely signed campaign-related emails with her professional title. All of these actions are prohibited by House rules.
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) launched a review based on a complaint filed by supporters of Ro Khanna, who lost a close race to Honda in 2014 and is challenging him again in 2016. The OCE then voted this spring to pass its findings on to the House Committee on Ethics, which stated it would delve further into the matter and deliver a report no later than Thursday.
How serious the House committee has treated the matter during the August recess, when many people are on vacation, is unknown. Sources close to the situation say that at least three people who initially declined to meet with OCE investigators—for fear of retribution from Honda and his supporters—want to meet with the House committee if ordered via a subpoena, but they have yet to be contacted again.
The House Committee on Ethics could announce the creation of a subcommittee to continue the investigation for up to a year, or delay the release of its report if it were to receive a request from an outside law enforcement agency, such as the Department of Justice. A prolonged investigation would certainly damage Honda’s re-election efforts, but not just in image.
A deeper probe of how Honda’s office has conducted itself the last few years could also become a heavy burden on his campaign coffers. Recent filings show his campaign hired three firms that specialize in congressional investigations at a cost of more than $65,000 for just the first six months of this year.
Not long after the OCE recommended a looking further into alleged improprieties between Honda’s campaign and House staff, San Jose Inside asked his campaign spokesman, Adam Alberti, to confirm if campaign funds were used to pay the legal bills of people other than Honda. After several attempts to sidestep the issue, noting that the congressman was cooperating with the investigation, Alberti wrote in an email, “In case you are confused still, full compliance includes the congressman and his staff.”
The number of people having their legal fees paid by Honda likely extends beyond the congressman and his chief of staff, but the next report on how Honda has been using campaign funds isn’t due Oct. 15.
Of course, with a report expected by Thursday, all of this could be moot if the House Committee on Ethics decides to drop the investigation, leaving the story to die just days before the Labor Day weekend media dump.