Lawsuit: Democratic candidate recruited last-minute Republican candidates to split primary vote

Patrick Howley | Political Reporter

Democratic congressional candidate and former Obama administration official Ro Khanna recruited two Republican candidates to enter a primary race to split the vote and weaken his top Republican opponent, according to a lawsuit filed in Superior Court of California.

Khanna’s campaign, the executive committee of which includes five Obama campaign veterans, recruited an Indian-American candidate with a similar name to Republican opponent Vanila Singh to confuse voters, according to the lawsuit filed by Alameda County Republican Central Committee member Jeffrey Wald and obtained by The Daily Caller.

Additionally, at least one Khanna supporter collecting signatures for a last-minute candidate said that the effort would help Khanna, according to the lawsuit. TheDC has also learned that one of the last-minute candidates was recently employed by the law firm Khanna currently works for.

“The late-entry of these two candidates was always fishy,” Singh told TheDC.

Khanna supporters discussed running a fake Republican candidate prior to the entry of the two last-minute candidates, according to California Republican sources. Khanna’s campaign denied the existence of the alleged scheme.

Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner, who was appointed by former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis after serving as Davis’ chief legal affairs secretary, ruled on the lawsuit this week, determining that one of the last-minute Republican candidates is not eligible to run in the primary but allowing the other candidate to continue in the race while finding no wrongdoing on the part of Khanna’s campaign.

Khanna is challenging Democratic Rep. Mike Honda in California’s 17th Congressional District, which is holding a June 3 primary in which only the top two vote-getters from either party advance to the general election. Khanna was a favorite to carry the district’s heavy Indian-American vote until Republican candidate Dr. Vanila Singh, an Indian-American professor and physician at Stanford University and mother of two, entered the race.

A poll commissioned by Honda supporter Howard Dean’s liberal group Democracy for America released Feb. 27 showed Honda with 45 percent of the vote in the primary, with Singh at 29 percent and Khanna at 26 percent — a margin that would have bumped Khanna out of the general election race.

Days later, last-minute Republican candidates Joel VanLandingham and Vinesh Sing Rathore filed papers to enter the primary just before the March 7 filing deadline. The lawsuit alleged misconduct with both candidates’ signatures including different signatures for Rathore in the same handwriting and signatures for VanLandingham with address information that doesn’t match voter records.

“Upon information and belief, Khanna recruited candidates to enter the race as Republicans to split the Republican vote three ways, effectively diluting votes that would otherwise be cast in favor of Singh. At the last minute, Singh Rathore and VanLandingham became candidates for the June 3 Primary Election. The addition of Sing Rathore, another Indian-American, will split the Indian-American vote. In addition, the fact that Singh Rathore has added his middle name on his ballot designation appears to be a clear effort to cause confusion between ‘Vanilla Singh’ and ‘Vinesh Singh,’ both of whom are designated as Republicans,” according to the lawsuit.

Rathore previously worked as an associate attorney for the law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, where Khanna is currently of counsel. Rathore, who worked for the firm from 2007 to 2010, lived in Washington, D.C. during Khanna’s time with the firm. Rathore now works for Google, a Wilson Sonsini client.

“Initially, Singh Rathore represented that he was an independent from San Jose. Singh Rathore only declared his affiliation with the Republican Party on the eve of submitting his nomination papers,” according to the lawsuit.

VanLandingham, a talent recruiter for Sony Computer Entertainment America, was allegedly helped in his signature-gathering efforts by pro-Khanna rhetoric.

“One of VanLandingham’s circulators, Manorama Kumar (“Kumar”) also signed Khanna’s nomination petition. Upon information and belief, Kumar also told VanLandingham’s signatories that a signature for VanLandingham would help Khanna in the June 3 Primary Election,” according to the lawsuit.

“Obtaining signatures from an individual who has previously signed another nomination paper for the same Race, violates the California Election Code and impairs the integrity of the electoral process, as does permitting a person other than the signatory from affixing to the nomination paper the printed name and address of the signatory,” according to the lawsuit.

“Upon information and belief, as of March 23, 2014, neither Singh Rathore nor VanLandingham had registered with the Federal Election Commission and filed a Statement of Candidacy,” according to the lawsuit.

A Khanna campaign spokesman, following Judge Sumner’s ruling, called the lawsuit a “ridiculous claim” with “no evidence” and “old-style political attacks and dirty tricks.”

Rathore also criticized the lawsuit, claiming that his intentions in running were pure and that “it’s sad to see another candidate (or their proxies) try to bully Mr. Vanlandingham and I out of the race through litigation.”

VanLandingham, meanwhile, accused Wald of being “supported by some ‘backroom deal’ with Congressman Mike Honda and the Democratic Party.”

But Khanna’s competitors are not dismissing the lawsuit lightly.

Prior to Judge Sumner’s ruling, a Honda spokesman called the lawsuit’s allegations “concerning.”

“That a candidate or his supporters would tamper with an election like this demonstrates a deep and clear sense of entitlement,” said Dr. Singh in a statement. “California’s top-two primary system is new. And it should be respected, not manipulated by candidates desperate to gain an unfair and undeserved advantage through vote dilution.”

Khanna served as deputy assistant secretary in the Obama administration’s Department of Commerce. His campaign’s executive committee includes former 2012 Obama for America National Finance Committee members David Berger, Kamil Hasan, Rusty Rueff and Kavita Tankha, and Obama 2012 campaign veteran Jim Green.

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