Rep. Mike Honda’s congressional ethics probe is nearing its first birthday, so he’s chosen to do the responsible thing and create a trust fund for its future.
Last year, the congressman reportedly spent more than $200,000 in campaign money to pay lawyers and crisis communications consultants for his and his staff’s legal representation. Honda’s decision to create a new committee to bundle additional funds for that defense—first reported by the Mercury News—appears to be a rare acknowledgment on his part that the investigation into pay-to-play accusations and his office’s alleged misuse of House resources is more than just a procedural blip.
In December, Honda requested and received permission from the House Committee on Ethics to set up the legal defense fund.
“I think it’s fair for people to know that their campaign contributions are being used for the campaign,” he said.
Establishing the new committee, titled the Michael Honda Legal Expense Trust Fund, allows the eight-term congressman to continue raising money for his re-election fight against Ro Khanna, San Jose Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio and others, while also bundling up to $5,000 per person in additional contributions for his legal defense fund.
If this seems like a loophole but also a surprisingly transparent way of parsing out contributions, not to worry: The legal defense fund has to file public reports, but they can only be accessed by going in person to a building in Washington D.C.
Honda campaign manager Michael Beckendorf told the Merc he expects the legal defense fund’s first report to note “minimal” costs, as the congressman has not been called to testify before the House Committee on Ethics and a subcommittee has not been created to follow up on leads—a standard practice before any actions such as sanctions or reprimands.
One cost saving will come from the campaign bringing all communications in house after ending its relationship with San Francisco-based consultants Singer & Associates, which Honda paid $15,000 last year.
A call to Beckendorf was not immediately returned.
Honda has argued that even if a House violation did occur, that wouldn’t be the same as breaking the law. Ballotpedia, a website that bills itself as the Encyclopedia of American politics, explored the accuracy of this statement.