CA-17 Democratic candidate Ro Khanna is facing
a second claim that he failed to pay campaign debts.
CONGRESS | 17TH DISTRICT |
Just minutes after candidates in the 17th Congressional District concluded their one-and-only pre-primary debate last May 6, Republican candidate Ron Cohen approached Ro Khanna and quietly handed him an envelope. “This person says you owe him money,” Cohen told Khanna. “I don’t know anything about it, but if you do, you should pay him.” Khanna politely took the envelope and said, according to Cohen. “I’ll look into it.”
Inside was documents from a former Silicon Valley executive who says Khanna, while he flirted in 2012 with a run for Congress in the Tri Valley, pledged, then wrote a $1,000 check from his exploratory campaign to an event in Livermore that re-enacted in large-scale the birth of Christ. Khanna then cancelled the check and avoided its organizers.
Khanna’s support for the Livermore event called
“Living Bethlehem” was included in the program (above)
and signage. Khanna’s check to the group was canceled.
The incident follows a report last week that Khanna failed to pay $6,000 in wages owed to a campaign worker from his first run for Congress in 2004. After repeated attempts by the staffer to receive payment, Khanna later attempted to over-pay Bill Ferguson, now a member of the Santa Clara Democratic Party Central Committee, during his 2014 congressional campaign, Ferguson, though, said Khanna again failed to pay him in full.
Together the stories begin to show a trend over the past decade or more of Khanna as a highly-ambitious young political prospect desperately searching for a landing spot to fulfill his political dreams while also exhibiting a nagging streak of scheming and manipulation.
Shortly after the CA-17 forum in Fremont last May 6,
GOP challenger Ron Cohen handed Khanna an envelope
containing Bellavia’s claim of non-payment.
Following Khanna’s 2004 protest candidacy against San Mateo Rep. Tom Lantos, it was clear even to those at the time that he had the potential to quickly climb the political ladder. Similar to his 2014 campaign against Rep. Mike Honda in the South Bay, Khanna was already adept at creating the image for himself as a youthful disrupter with tech cred and a unique ability to raise large amounts of campaign cash.
However, which municipality Khanna would achieve his goals were never entirely clear. By 2012, rumors of East Bay Rep. Pete Stark’s retirement after four decades in Congress attracted Khanna and others to the newly-redistricted 15th District, which now included Livermore in the Tri Valley.
“Ro was attempting to be in the community. He was showing lots of interest in what was being done out here,” said Chuck Bellavia, who first met Khanna over coffee in 2012 to discuss a non-profit event called “Living Bethlehem” that he was helping organize to celebrate the Christian nativity story.
The spectacle was large-scale, said Bellavia, and included a life-size manger, along with 125 actors in a production very similar to a professional Civil War re-enactment. More than 12,000 attended the five performances spread over five days during the Christmas season. The event’s organizers that year raised over $100,000 in cash and in-kind donations, said Bellavia, but Khanna’s contribution was not one of them.
“We deposited the check and it bounced,” said Bellavia. “Repeatedly, Ro was not answering my emails. I finally got him to sit down for coffee and told him based on his commitment we had done certain things like put signage up, put him in the program.” According to Bellavia, Khanna said his campaign finance people looked at the donation and he said, “I couldn’t do it.”
“I said, ‘You already gave us the check. Write us a personal check.’” Khanna said he would look into it, but never returned emails again, said Bellavia. Khanna used a similar explanation to Ferguson and his unpaid wages when he told the former staffer in an email that his campaign advisers had initially nixed paying Ferguson for 2004 work using 2014 campaign funds.
Khanna said he was initially unaware of the event’s religious nature before making the donation.
“When I learned this event had a religious component, I didn’t find it appropriate to use campaign funds,” said Khanna.
In an interview last week, Khanna agreed with some of Bellavia’s account of the reasoning behind the canceled check, but added the impetus was also a worry his potential campaign would be linked to a group that is pro-life.
Bellavia disagrees and said the event was simply about telling the story of the birth of Jesus. “There was no evangelizing,” added Bellavia. During his first meeting with Khanna, said Bellavia, he recalls having a lengthy conversation about abortion in advance of Khanna writing the check to the group.
“I find his reasoning creative. Obviously it begs, why did you give us the check in the first place?” Bellavia said of Khanna’s pro-life explanation. “I find it interesting how stiffing a charitable organization for $1,000 has evolved into a whole different scenario. It’s been a few years and now there’s a new spin.”
When Cohen handed evidence to Khanna of Bellavia’s complaint earlier this month, it likely did not surprise Khanna. That’s because Bellavia had been in contact with Khanna earlier this year over the issue of the canceled $1,000 check. Similar to the Ferguson story, despite a lengthy disagreement without resolution, Khanna reached out to Bellavia for a campaign contribution earlier this year. Albeit, in this case, in the form of a bulk email asking for donations.
Bellavia, nonetheless, was peeved and fired off a missive to Khanna’s personal email. “I told him I was still disappointed by the canceled check,” said Bellavia, “and he wrote that he wanted to sit down with me for coffee.” Bellavia deleted the email, he said, and never responded.
NOTE: A quote from Khanna involving his reason for canceling the check was included after this article was posted..