Rep, Mike Honda's campaign reveals the contents
of a civil lawsuit filed against Ro Khanna and his
campaign manager Thursday in San Jose.
Ro Khanna’s most effective talking point for nearly a year has been repeated references to his opponent Rep, Mike Honda’s on-going ethics investigation. The constant drumbeat, in fact, likely earned Khanna a big upset over Honda during the June primary.
But, now a civil lawsuit filed by the Honda campaign Thursday may undo the challenger’s momentum going forward to November. In the complaint, it is alleged Khanna’s campaign manager illegally accessed “thousands” of donor records from the Honda campaign, including the so-called “1,000 Cranes” documents and resulting news article last December, which led to Honda’s current legal problems.
“Ro Khanna’s campaign for Congress has been taking part in an illegal cyber attack and data breach for many years,” said Vedant Patel, communication director for the Honda campaign. “This is a modern-day Watergate,” added Michael Beckendorf, its campaign manager.
In the lawsuit filed Thursday morning, the Honda campaign alleges Brian Parvizshahi, Khanna’s campaign manager since 2015, accessed a Dropbox account that contained information related to Honda’s previous donors. The data breach was identified by the Honda campaign on May 31. Khanna is also named in the suit as a conspirator.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges Parvizshahi's actions violated federal law, including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and theft of trade secrets. Gautam Dutta, an attorney for the Honda campaign, said the charges against Parvizshahi are serious. “We are still uncovering the full extent of what happened and our discovery process is ongoing,” said Dutta.
It is alleged Parvizshahi accessed donor data files belonging to the Honda campaign since February 2013. A year prior, Parvizshahi was an intern at the fundraising consulting firm also used then by Honda. At the time, he was given access to Honda’s donor files. However, Parvizshahi only last one month at the firm, but his access was never revoked by the company. In 2014, Parvizshahi served as data director for the Khanna Campaign and last year was elevated to campaign manager for the current election cycle. From February to September 2013, according to the lawsuit, Parvizshahi edited or added to the Honda donor files seven times and “modified” records 44 times between January 2014 and June 2015. Parvizshahi's digital fingerprints on the records revealed his activities each time, according to the suit.
In addition, the central tenet of Khanna’s second attempt at unseating Honda this fall may have been gleaned from Parvizshahi’s access to the donor files. According to the lawsuit, the anonymous delivery of donor information to South Bay alt-weekly Silicon Valley Metro, was procured from the same data breach.
The article published Dec. 16, 2015 described Honda’s “1,000 Cranes” list of donors, along with suggestions of pay-to-play politics. The story had devastating effects on Honda and allowed Khanna to cast consistent doubt over the congressman’s ethics. The resulting investigation by the Congressional Ethics Committee further eroded Honda’s once-sterling reputation in the 17th Congressional District and likely proved the difference in last June’s primary, which Khanna won in an upset. Beckendorf said the information in that story matches the data procured by Parvizshahi.
In addition, the lawsuit alleges Khanna used the stolen fundraising data to solicit contributions and support from people who had contributed previously to the Honda campaign. In one email given to the Honda campaign, Khanna instructs Parvizshahi to take the donor of their “friends list.” Sixteen peopel complained to the Honda campaign about unsolicited emails from Khanna's personal email account. Six of them are named in the lawsuit.
In an interview following a campaign event in Fremont, Khanna called the filing a “baseless lawsuit” and denied he or Parvizshahi ever had access to any information belonging to the Honda campaign. Khanna also called the move "shameless" to file the suit just six weeks before Election Day.
Parvizshahi's online activities also came into the spotlight recently. Last week, the founder of Daily Kos, a prominent progressive Website, publicly admonished Parvizshahi for creating up to two phony user names on the site to attack a negative posting on the Khanna campaign.