Pol Says Opponent Stole Key Donor Information

     SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) — Eight-term California congressman Mike Honda claims his opponent’s campaign manager stole confidential information on thousands of donors to tip a tight November race in his boss’s favor.
     Brian Parvizshahi, a campaign manager for Rohit “Ro” Khanna, resigned late Thursday after news broke that Honda sued both him and Khanna in federal court. The claims include violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Economic Espionage Act
     Khanna, a former deputy assistant commerce secretary under President Barack Obama, lost a race to Honda for California’s heavily Democratic 17th Congressional District in 2014 by four percentage points. But he beat Honda by 0.2 percentage points in the June 7 primary, making Honda’s loss in the November runoff a possibility thanks to California’s “top-two” primary system.
     Both men are Democrats.
     Defendants’ attorney David Berger said in an interview Friday that Honda sued to distract voters from an ongoing ethics probe and to give him a leg up in a race he might lose. Honda is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee over whether his office misspent taxpayer money meant for campaigning staff.
     Berger noted that Honda hadn’t named as a defendant Arum Group, a former Honda fundraising firm which complaint flags as responsible for the data breach. Arum would be the primary defendant if there had been any wrongdoing and if the lawsuit hadn’t been filed for purely political reasons, Berger said.
     He also questioned why the Honda campaign waited until six weeks before the general election to sue, even though it learned about the breach in May 2016.
     “The fact they filed it and had a press conference on it before they served [Khanna] speaks volumes,” Berger said. “It’s a typical ‘October surprise.'”
     Khanna has continuously slammed Honda over the ethics probe, likely contributing to his June primary win in the race for the seat encompassing swaths of Santa Clara and Alameda counties.
     But Honda’s attorney Gautam Dutta told Courthouse News that accusations that Honda is attempting to distract voters are unfounded.
     “We weren’t hired for political rhetoric,” Dutta said. “We’re poring through all the evidence. One does not file anything in court and put in the time required to become certain about what they’re facing.”
     In his lawsuit, Honda says that Parvizshahi illegally accessed Dropbox folders maintained by Honda’s campaign containing the names and private email addresses of thousands of the congressman’s donors.
     Khanna then emailed many of those donors to convince them to vote for him instead of Honda, the lawsuit says.
     Honda says some of his supporters stopped donating to his congressional campaign after Khanna began emailing them at their personal addresses, damaging relationships he says took years to build. The data breach also saw a list of big-dollar Honda donors published on a local news site, which led to the ethics investigation of Honda, he says.
     They were personally pressured and intimidated by defendant Khanna at a place that they had least expected: their own email inbox,” Honda says in the complaint.
     Parvizshahi was given access to the folders in 2012 while interning with Arum Group, the complaint states. Parvizshahi quit the internship and went on to work for Khanna — first as a data director and then as his campaign manager — and accessed the folders at least 44 times during 2014 and 2015 in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Economic Espionage Act, Honda says.
     In October 2015, Khanna sent four batches of emails to the personal addresses of Honda’s supporters, according to Honda. He told them, “Honda’s ethics scandal has convinced many voters about the need for change,” and included links to negative news articles about Honda.
     Khanna also asked Honda’s supporters if he could call them to discuss his candidacy, Honda says.
     Sixteen donors called Honda’s office to report the Khanna emails, the complaint says, tipping off the campaign that something was amiss. But Honda says the damage is likely far more wide-ranging, estimating that for every donor who called him about the emails, 50 to 100 did not.
     “The 16 individuals who contacted Honda for Congress regarding Mr. Khanna’s email were likely the tip of the iceberg,” Honda says.
     Although Parvizshahi “continuously” sneaked into the fundraising folders for nearly two years, it wasn’t until Honda’s current fundraising consultant Randy Broz received a Dropbox notification in May 2016 that the files in those folders had been modified that campaign officials discovered what Parvizshahi had been doing, according to the complaint.
     Arum Group immediately revoked Parvizshahi’s access, realizing it had forgotten to do so after he quit.
     Dutta says the Honda campaign is still assessing what happened and how much personal information was exposed.
     “Any campaign prizes and protects the confidential information of all of its supporters,” Dutta said. “That’s the foremost goal. Because of these repeated violations of law, that privacy and that confidentiality were compromised, and that’s extremely upsetting.”
     In addition to damages, Honda wants Khanna’s campaign to stop using the confidential information Parvizshahi stole and to return or destroy what it has.
     “Those items are the lifeblood of any successful fundraising campaign,” Honda says.
     Dutta is with the firm Business, Energy, and Election Law in San Jose.
     Berger, the defendants’ lawyer, is with the Bay Area firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

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