Democrat Ro Khanna, a former Commerce Department official under President Barack Obama who's looking to unseat incumbent Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), filed a charge with the Office of Congressional Ethics on Tuesday regarding mass mailings from Honda's office.
Khanna's campaign is accusing Honda's congressional office of sending two taxpayer-funded mailers to constituents that "mirror" campaign mailers and use "campaign and political slogans."
The first mailer from Honda's congressional office is designed similarly to a campaign flier and is headlined "Delivering For Us." The mailer lists ways in which Honda's office has served his Silicon Valley-based district, and the Khanna campaign believes it was received by Honda's constituents in March.
The second mailer is on letterhead from Honda's office and tells constituents that Honda's reaching out to them about his "work on behalf of our nation's seniors."
"My support for critical programs like Medicare and Social Security has been unwavering, and I have always taken the lead to protect, improve, and expand our nation's safety net," the mailer states in the first paragraph.
Khanna's campaign believes that letter, which was sent in April, was received by over 500 constituents in Honda's district.
Khanna's campaign takes issue with more than just the content of the two mailers in question. They claim the mailers violated a 90-day cutoff that restricts mass mailings to over 500 constituents from candidates on an election ballot. The primary between Khanna and Honda is set to take place June 3.
This charge is only likely to intensify an already heated primary in the heart of America's tech industry.
Khanna, who's found allies in Silicon Valley's business community, has received high-profile endorsements from tech titans like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer. Honda, on the other hand, has garnered most of his support from members of the California Democratic establishment, like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.
It should be noted that just because a charge is filed with the Office of Congressional Ethics, it doesn't mean the office will automatically investigate the matter. It could very well decide to not do so if it doesn't find merit in the accusation.
Vivek Kembaiyan, communications director for the Honda campaign, told the Huffington Post that all taxpayer-funded congressional mailers, sometimes referred to as "franked mail," is "approved by the bipartisan Commission on Congressional Mailing Standards, including this piece by the Office of Congressman Honda. This complaint by the Ro Khanna campaign about standard mailings is a desperate and unoriginal political ploy to distract from their inability to gain traction with voters two weeks before the primary, despite spending millions of dollars."
UPDATE -- 5:49 p.m.: Khanna's campaign manager Leah Cowan sent the following statement to HuffPost:
With Congressman Honda's massive amount of donations from PAC's and lobbyists, it shouldn't be necessary for hardworking families to foot the bill for such blatantly political mailers. This misuse of taxpayer dollars to subsidize his campaign is an abuse of the public trust and he should reimburse the taxpayers immediately.
Further, the Honda campaign's quick and defensive response causes more concern about the existence of coordination between his campaign and Congressional office, which would be illegal. We await a explanation from Congressman Honda's official office because they should be the only one's who know why the mailers were sent out in the first place.
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to reflect California had open primary elections, not a Democratic primary election.