Questions about Honda staff actions turn up heat in Bay Area race

Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), left, and Democratic challenger Ro Khanna participated in a candidates forum in May.
(Jim Gensheimer / Associated Press)

News reports questioning the propriety of emails between the government and campaign staffs of Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) are roiling an already hot congressional race.

Honda is facing an aggressive challenge this year by former Commerce Department official Ro Khanna, also a Democrat. The temperature rose further this week when a Bay Area news outlet, San Jose Inside, suggested that Honda’s congressional staff may have mingled government work with campaign business, which is forbidden by House rules.

The news organization based its story on emails it said were provided by a former Honda staffer. The emails were between the congressman’s top aide and a then-campaign staffer concerning invitees for a State Department function.

The Honda campaign denied any wrongdoing, but in a statement issued Friday said the congressman “believes staff should have taken more care to prevent the appearance of coordination” between his House and campaign workers.

Khanna’s campaign jumped on the story when it broke earlier this week, blasting emails about it to reporters. On Friday, the campaign hosted a news conference on the matter outside its Fremont headquarters.


The event featured Milpitas Mayor Jose Esteves and Cupertino City Councilman Rod Sinks, both Khanna supporters, who filed a complaint against Honda with the Office of Congressional Ethics on Friday.

Citing what they called “the potential serious nature of the alleged violations,” Esteves and Sinks asked the office “to investigate this matter thoroughly and promptly,” publish the results and “sanction Congressman Honda appropriately.”

Honda campaign spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan said Honda “welcomes any investigation.” He also slammed the Khanna campaign.

“This challenger has orchestrated a fake news event in a desperate attempt at publicity to save his campaign from another failure at the polls,” Kembaiyan said.

Khanna finished 20 percentage points behind Honda in the four-way June primary.

The same-party fall match-up is one of a handful across the state made possible by California’s relatively new elections system, in which the first- and second-place primary finishers, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the fall general election.

Follow @jeanmerl for the latest in Southern California politics news.