Updated 4:34 p.m. | Investigators with the Office of Congressional Ethics are looking into allegations against Rep. Michael M. Honda, the Democrat who has represented California’s South Bay since 2000.
The probe follows a September 2014 report by San Jose Inside that exposed internal emails between Honda’s longtime chief of staff, Jennifer Van der Heide, and his then-campaign manager about the invite list for an upcoming State Department roundtable. The February 2013 emails, given to the newspaper by an ex-Honda staffer, appeared to violate House rules regarding campaign activity by discussing contributors and fundraising efforts related to an official event. Two days later, supporters of Ro Khanna, the Democrat vying against Honda for his seat in 2014, filed a complaint. Although only one of the 20 people who attended the State Department roundtable had ever contributed to Honda, Khanna and his supporters accused the congressman of a “pay-to-play arrangement,” in addition to pressuring staffers to assist the re-election campaign.
Honda’s office did not comment on the allegations in the letter to OCE, but acknowledged the investigation.
“The congressman and his staff continue to cooperate fully with the OCE’s review of the matter,” Honda spokeswoman Lauren Smith said in an email to CQ Roll Call. “Out of respect for the process, we cannot confirm specifics or discuss any details at this time.”
The House Ethics Committee has decided to extend its review of Honda, based on materials received from OCE on June 5.
In a Monday statement, Chairman Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and ranking member Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., noted that the mere fact of a referral or extension “does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgement on behalf of the Committee.”
The next public statement on the ethics case is expected by Sept. 3.
The boundaries between campaign work and official House activities during election are a frequent source of ethics complaints.
In December, Rep. Judy Chu was chastised by the House Ethics Committee for interfering in an investigation related to staffers drafting a memo for an August 2011 fundraising lunch and sifting through emails to Chu’s campaign account. The committee determined Chu didn’t know about the improper work.