Kim Returns to Congress Amid Doubts About Political Future


One day after being sentenced for campaign finance violations, Rep. Jay Kim (R-Diamond Bar) flew to Washington on Tuesday, determined to resume his congressional duties even as some local Republicans were writing his political obituary.

"I have great faith in the voters, and I don't believe that voters are going to reelect someone who has spit in the face of the democratic system of government," said Los Angeles Republican consultant Harvey Englander.

Kim was sentenced Monday to two months' house detention and one year probation for accepting more than $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions. After denying wrongdoing for four years, Kim pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in August.

"It's time to put this behind us," said Kim spokesman P.J. O'Neil, adding that Kim has accepted responsibility for his actions and wants to return to the business of governing.

But Kim's schedule for today demonstrates how the criminal case lingers--he is scheduled to meet with House Speaker Newt Gingrich, perhaps to discuss his future, and with a federal probation officer to iron out the terms of his house detention.

Like others in the federal monitoring program, Kim will be fitted with an electronic tracking bracelet and allowed to go to and from work. O'Neil said Kim will be able to fully represent his constituents.

"He's going to be able to represent them in Washington, he's going to be able to come back to the district, he'll be able to run the campaign as he would during the election year," O'Neil said.

Probation officials in Los Angeles said that people under house detention are allowed to leave their homes for work for 10 hours a day, five days a week.

Kim admitted accepting a $50,000 contribution from a Taiwanese national while knowing that campaign laws prohibited gifts from nonresident foreigners, as well as unlawfully accepting $12,000 from a New York company and having his own company provide $83,000 in services for his 1992 campaign.

Kim's case is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, which recently began interviewing witnesses and could recommend a reprimand, censure or expulsion. The full House must approve an Ethics Committee report; a two-thirds vote of the House is needed to expel a member.

In Washington, Republican leaders declined to comment on Kim. In Southern California, prominent Republicans said that Kim at best faces an uphill battle in the November election.

"Even though this is behind him as a legal matter, it's not behind him as a political issue," said Republican political consultant Ken Khachigian.

Kim faces stiff challenges in the June primary from Assemblyman Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar), Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Pete Pierce and Jack Healy, a member of the Walnut school board. All three have called for Kim to resign.

Some analysts said the presence of two strong challengers--Miller and Pierce--could work to Kim's advantage if they split the anti-Kim vote. But if Kim survives the primary, they speculated, he could lose the general election to a Democrat, even in his traditionally conservative district, which stretches from the east San Gabriel Valley to Orange and San Bernardino counties.

"If anybody could lose that district, it's Jay Kim," said Charles Cook, publisher of the Cook Report, which tracks congressional races.

Some observers said they doubt that Kim has strong support within the Republican Party because his case concluded as the GOP was trying to make hay about Democratic campaign finance practices.

"If I were advising Newt Gingrich, I would say get Jay Kim out of Congress as quickly as possible," Englander said. "The reality is that everybody talks about [campaign finance violations], but here's a congressman who's a Republican who went out and did it."

Allan Hoffenblum, author of a well-regarded book on California political races, noted that Assemblyman Miller has been endorsed by state Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga, and that Gov. Pete Wilson attended one of his fund-raisers. "You get the feeling that the establishment feels it's time for a change," Hoffenblum said. "Whether the voters will agree with that is another story."

Kim's supporters note that voters stuck with him after news of the federal investigation broke in 1993--twice choosing him over challengers from both parties who made an issue of the FBI probe .

"You have to see what this means to the folks in Ontario and Diamond Bar, where he has a fairly good reputation at performing his congressional duties," said Brad Smith, a spokesman for Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas). "Here in Washington everyone gets all whipped up if there's any blood on anyone. When I go back home, it's not like people wake up every day and say 'My God, what do we do about Jay Kim?' "

Kim has attended 100% of all House votes for the last six years and sits on the Transportation Committee, where he is fighting for California's share of a massive transit bill.

"You've got to look at his record," O'Neil said. "He's very well known as one of the hardest workers in Congress. He's working on getting California an extra billion dollars for the next six, seven years. "

But Kim's foes Tuesday said his ethical lapses overshadow all else.

"How do I tell young people we want to hold you accountable when we don't even hold [Kim] accountable?" Miller said.

Added Pierce: "I think that what the Clinton/Gore campaign did was quite serious," referring to alleged violations of campaign finance laws by the Democrats in the 1996 election. "But if we are going to challenge that, we can't hold any credibility if we dismiss it when it's one of our own people."

Prosecutors had sought jail time for Kim, but U.S. District Judge Richard Paez sentenced Kim to house detention, probation, a $5,000 fine and 200 hours of community service.

Paez has been nominated by President Clinton for a seat on the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals. He testified Feb. 25 before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. The panel had been scheduled to vote on Paez's nomination late last week, but postponed the vote until Thursday.

Smith, Dreier's spokesman, said that he believed that Paez's decision not to send Kim to jail allowed Kim to remain a viable candidate.

And the voters should hold Kim accountable, said Larry Berg, the former head of USC's Unruh Institute of Politics. "It's time for the voters to take some responsibility on this stuff," Berg said. "Throw him out. It beats term limits."

Times staff writers Faye Fiore in Washington and K. Connie Kang in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Thursday March 12, 1998 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction Rep. Kim--In a story in Wednesday's editions of The Times on Rep. Jay Kim (R-Diamond Bar), Harvey Englander was incorrectly identified as a Republican political consultant. Englander works for candidates in both parties.
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