Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) fired back Thursday after his opponent for 2014 asked him to sign a "people's pledge" to prevent outside spending from unduly influencing their race's outcome.
Attorney and former Obama administration official Ro Khanna, also a Democrat, is challenging Honda in the primary for California's 17th District. Khanna has received campaign contributions from Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Napster co-founder Sean Parker, among other Silicon Valley players, raising more than $400,000 in the last fundraising quarter.
But it's not just the tech-sector money -- or the insane amount of it -- that's attracted attention to what may be the most expensive primary this year. Honda has been endorsed by President Barack Obama, while several of the president's former campaign aides now work for Khanna.
Emails obtained by The Huffington Post detailed Khanna's invitation to sign a pledge:
I invite you to join me in asking independent expenditure campaigns and super PACs, many of which rely on outside donors, to keep their money out of the 17th District race. Let’s stand together with the other candidates in this race and take the same People’s Pledge Senator Elizabeth Warren and her opponent did to keep independent expenditures out of their race in 2012.
Senator Warren and Scott Brown agreed to pay a penalty of 50 percent the cost of any TV, radio, or Internet advertising by an outside group – whether that ad supported the candidates themselves or aimed to attack their opponent. The money would be donated to a charity chosen by the other candidate. I believe we should embrace this landmark agreement and expand it to include direct mail expenditures as well. By saying no to all forms of advertising from outside groups, we are taking real stand against Citizens United.
Doug Greven, Honda's campaign manager, suggested an alternative Thursday for how to reduce the influence of financial contributions in the race, referencing several Khanna contributors who have reportedly asked for their donations back because they thought he was running in a different district.
In the true spirit of keeping undue influence out of this election, we propose limiting contributions to all candidates in this race to an amount that puts millionaires on a level playing field with ordinary folks: $570. This is the same limit as local elections in the city of Fremont, in our district.
We propose that all campaigns refund contributions to any donors who have already given more than this limit of $570. Your campaign can start by refunding the $11,000 in contributions from the five donors who have already requested a refund because Ro misled them. He had asked for their max-out contributions to run for an open seat, then used their money to run in a different district -- against Mike.
Then your campaign can continue by refunding contributions to Marc Leder (gave $5,200 to Ro) who hosted Mitt Romney for the fundraiser where he made his 47% remark, and Peter Thiel (gave $2,500 to Ro) who has given millions to the Club for Growth in order to elect far-right conservatives like Ted Cruz.
California has a top-two primary system, which means the two candidates who receive the most votes in the June 3 primary will compete in the November general election regardless of their party affiliation.
Stanford anesthesiologist Vanila Singh, a political novice, is running on the Republican side.
Update: 11:22 a.m. -- Khanna's campaign manager responded to Honda's email Friday, calling the pledge a "real opportunity in this race to stand up against special interests" and fight back against the Citizens United ruling, which allowed outside groups to spend unlimited amounts to influence elections. Honda and Khanna have both spoken out against the ruling: