Ro Khanna, Rep. Mike Honda

CONGRESS | 17TH DISTRICT | Ro Khanna’s congressional campaign filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics Wednesday charging incumbent Rep. Mike Honda with sending taxpayer-paid mailers that could be construed by voters as campaign-related literature. The campaign says Honda also violated a 90-day grace period before elections when mailings to constituents are typically not sent.

A pair of mailers sent by Honda appear to have similar language and content, according to the complaint. The issue was first reported last March by San Jose Inside, which noted both mailers, one paid by the Honda campaign and the other with congressional franking privileges, focused, among other issues, on the word, “Delivering.” The third mailing, a letter sent in April to constituents using congressional letterhead is also cited for using language that could be mistaken as campaign materials.

“We believe that these statements can have no reasonable interpretation other than to influence an election. These are political statements, discussing the Congressman’s accomplishments and promising the reader that “you can count” on him. Specifically, this mailing was targeted to seniors, a major constituency in California 17th Congressional District,” says the complaint. “We believe that a reasonable person would see this mailing as campaign literature. Accordingly, we believe that Congressman Honda has violated House ethics rules.” In a statement Wednesday, the Khanna campaign also called on Honda to reimburse taxpayers’ for the cost of the mailings.

Vivek Kembaiyan, communication director for the Honda campaign, said all franked mail is approved by the Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards. “This complaint by the Ro Khanna campaign about standard mailings is a desperate and unoriginal political ploy to distract from their inability to gain traction with voters two weeks before the primary, despite spending millions of dollars.”

Questions over the unlimited use of sending mail to constituents in a congressman’s district is often controversial and a flashpoint for campaign gamesmanship. Just this month, in the neighboring 15th Congressional District race, also between two Democrats, State Majority Leader Ellen Corbett attacked Rep. Eric Swalwell for spending over $190,000 in taxpayer-funded mailings to constituents during his first year in office. The amount is far greater than any other representative in the Bay Area, including Honda. Similarly, Corbett suggested some of the mailing were veiled attempts to undercut her campaign with taxpayers’ money. Corbett’s campaign, however, did not file a formal complaint.