Khanna welched on donation to charity organizing celebration of Jesus’ birth

CA-17 Democratic candidate Ro Khanna is facing 

a second claim that he failed to pay campaign debts.

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..

11 thoughts on “Khanna welched on donation to charity organizing celebration of Jesus’ birth

  1. To be complete: Ro contacted me and assured me and Charles that he sent a $1,000 check to the Knights of Columbus charity, a few days ago. I have not confirmed that by looking any bank records, of course, but I take Ro at his word on this. Charles was very pleased with this outcome…that ultimately, a payment went to a charity.

    …Even if 4 years later, and only after embarrassment in a political campaign…but, all of you reading this can decided how you feel about Ro's actions in this matter, from beginning to end…and if it reflects on what might be his future behavior.

    Ron Cohen, Republican Candidate for Congress #17 District.


  2. I'm glad to see this mention of Khanna as a “corporate tool.” I felt this way about him in 2014. I have no idea if this is widely known among the electorate. I hope so. Even if I wasn't already a huge fan of Mike Honda, I would be totally put off by Khanna's viciously negative direct mail pieces that attack Honda. Surely such unprovoked negativity is a sign of weakness. I just hope voters are as turned off by it as I am. Who will he be indebted to for sending so many glossy negative mailings? Not people who have my interests at heart, I'm sure.


  3. Dear 11:38:

    First, Honda had absolutely nothing to do with this issue.

    Second, Let me assure you, like many progressives, you are thinking about this all wrong. I don't care about if a bunch of radical gays and feminists pass around this blog. They account for very small percentage of the voters and their reasoning is faulty on this issue.

    The point of the article is just as it states. Ro intentionally bounced a check on a charity, due to political concerns. For most voters without a a political agenda, that is a big deal. As Chuck said when he wrote me when he contacted me on the matter: “This type of guy should not be in Congress!” I agree, and what works for Honda's Campaign is irrelevant. Ron Cohen, Republican candidate for Congress, 17th District.


  4. I don't like Ro Khanna much and will be voting for Honda. But, this stuff doesn't help us. The best attack on Khanna and the most honest is that he is going to ship jobs overseas with all his Indian American donors and that he's beholden to Republican interests. We know that works. This is petty stuff. Even if there was something to it, the statute of limitations on a cancelled check is 3 years, and the statute of limitations on bad debt from 2004 is 5 years. And campaign debt is so common. It looks trivial and allows Khanna to claim he's being unfairly attacked. The real attack on him is that he's a corporate tool. Franky, the check cancellation to a religious institution ACTUALLY helps Khanna with progressives. I heard a few of his volunteers were forwarding this blog to others to show he'll stand up for gay rights and women's rights. This is the wrong way to campaign against this man.

    Look Khanna is dangerous. But he's not to be underestimated. Let's stick to what worked last cycle on outsourcing and Republican light. Don't get desperate with petty attacks that make this Khanna guy sympathetic. There is no there there to these stories. No legal claim. No suit. If anything, the cancellation makes Khanna look principled and progressive in a way he is NOT.


  5. Intentionally bouncing a check is a potential FELONY. That is not the behavior of a potential congressman. Ro should withdraw from the race. Ron Cohen. Republican candidate 17th Congressional District.


  6. Over and over, I see these situations that reveal Ro Khanna's poor judgement and his willingness to ignore obligations and promises he's made. Sadly, I suspect what I've seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg. It's become all too obvious that his swollen, brazen ambition trumps any ethical considerations. I hate to imagine what he'd be like if he ever got elected.


  7. Khanna You don't mess with Jesus.. Oh well… I have not been to church latelly, but you never mess with donations.


  8. 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.

    How long did it take him to realize that a nonprofit called “Living Bethlehem” that organizes an enormous nativity play was religious? This is dumb.


  9. This seems like a much cleaner story than the last former staffer story.

    Looks bad must say…is this there going to be a new story like this every week?


  10. Ro seems to drink a lot of coffee. Wonder if he's ever picked up the tab? I'm guessing not.

    Not sure I'd trust him with the checkbook. Overspends then fakes receipts when he ran for class president at UoC. Stiffs an employee when his '04 campaign runs out of money. Forced to take Walton money on Election day after burning thru 3.5 million last election.

    Now we find he tried to use campaign money to make a charitable donation to a church. But the church is the bad guy …the unpaid worker is the bad guy. I had to fake those receipts to cover for somebody else's bad behavior.


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