Ethics panel investigating Rep. Mike Honda of California

AP News
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Posted: Sep 03, 2015 6:26 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democratic Rep. Mike Honda of California remains under scrutiny by the House Ethics Committee for allegations that he had congressional aides perform campaign work when they were supposed to be working on government business.

The panel announced Thursday that it is extending an investigation into whether the California Democrat broke House rules against using official resources for campaign work.

It released a report by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics that says it's likely that Honda's staff prepared campaign materials on taxpayer-paid time and may have used an office-sponsored roundtable event with a State Department official to boost Honda's political support and perhaps raise campaign cash from influential South Asian donors.

The independent panel interviewed Honda and some of his staff aides. It said there is "substantial reason to believe" that he used taxpayer resources, including staff time, to help his campaign and improperly tied official events to political or campaign support.

For instance, according to notes taken at a staff retreat, Honda's then-campaign manager told congressional staff aides that Honda's campaign "takes (district office) events and uses them to raise $."

When asked about this, Honda told investigators that "it's open to a lot of interpretation, but it doesn't look good."

In a statement released by his campaign, Honda minimized the allegations.

"The issues addressed in the report simply do not represent congressional ethics violations," Honda said. The campaign noted that many cases referred to the official House Ethics Committee are dismissed.

Congressional aides told investigators that they reported to Honda's top congressional aide — she described herself as a campaign volunteer — when performing campaign work.

Honda's staff also organized a February 2013 roundtable with a State Department official on business relations between India and the U.S. as the lawmaker began to represent a larger share of Indian Americans and was concerned that a candidate from that community would run against him. Lists prepared by Honda aides noted past political donations by potential guests.

Top Honda aide Jennifer Van der Heide sent an email to campaign and official aides asking "how are we doing outreach to them for $?"

Asked what she meant by that, Van der Heide told investigators "I don't know."

Honda's campaign statement said the allegations involve "missteps" and "sloppiness" by his staff.

Honda narrowly prevailed last year over Democrat Ro Khanna.

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This story has been corrected to show that Ro Khanna is a Democrat, not a Republican.