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.”