American Politics Journal

Congressman Jay Kim:
Just the Tip of the Iceberg

by Mac MacArthur

Congressman Jay Kim. Not the
victim but the victimizer.
Friday, December 19th, 1997 -- PALM BEACH -- This may be the most important and elaborate piece I've written and that you will read in American Politics this year. It's not about Asian-American bashing. It's not simply about Congressman Chang-Jun "Jay" Kim. It's not about slamming the Republican Party.

It's about our system, and what I see as the biggest congressional conspiracy to remain silent in history.

When Republican Congressman Jay Kim and his wife June pleaded guilty to federal charges that they accepted hundred of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions, one might have thought Kim's political career had ended. But the anguishing tale of Jay and June Kim is far from over.

What this means to our democracy, and what this case could reveal is a key to understanding the American system of governance, and the fact that it is congress -- not the wealthy or large domestic or foreign contributions -- that sets the stage for large-scale corruption and abuse of the public trust.

As you read, ask yourself how Congressman Kim remains in office today: is it because he's a Korean-American and a hot-button man on the racial equality agenda, or is it for some other reason? Perhaps he does not represent an anomaly but rather the norm of congressional conduct.

Perhaps no other case speaks so clearly to the idea that perhaps every branch of government, with the hesitating cooperation of the judiciary, has at least given up on even the attempt to stem corruption by public officials -- particularly elected ones.

When one examines the Kim case, one clearly sees how the system operates.

So, come along on this ride. Read about Jay and June Kim, and see if you agree.

I first thought about Kim and what he faces today when the mainstream press announced that the House Ethics Committee said yesterday it had set up a subcommittee to "investigate" Kim, a congressman from Southern California, who has already pleaded guilty earlier this year to knowingly taking illegal campaign contributions, and faces up to three years in jail and fines of more than $400,000 for three federal "misdemeanor" charges.

Sentencing is scheduled in less than a month.

The first question I asked myself: Why is this a misdemeanor?

The four-member subcommittee that will conduct the "investigation" will be chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, the Ethics Committee said. Kim, the first Korean-American elected to the US Congress, pleaded guilty to three counts of accepting illegal contributions totaling $145,000 from 1992, when he was first elected, to 1996.

"This is merely a technical announcement disclosing exactly which members of Congress are going to be responsible for conducting the Standards Committee's previously announced investigation," Kim spokesman P. J. O'Neil said. "Congressman Kim always has and will continue to cooperate fully with the committee."

Oh. Wonderful. What a relief.

One wonders what the committee is "investigating" inasmuch as Kim is guilty by his own admission. I can only assume that he will try to hold onto his seat despite the disgrace he now faces and the disgrace he has brought to the Korean-American community. One also wonders just what a "technical announcement" is? Does that mean the GOP has no intention of carrying on an investigation -- or is Kim's guilt a foregone conclusion with only his punishment at issue?

What led Kim to this critical "lapse of judgment," and what lessons might we learn from his story?

When the Kims pleaded guilty they knew Jay could face up to three years in prison and that June could get two years. They also faced fines large enough to bankrupt them.

But they also seemed to think Jay could stay in Congress.

And you know what? They may be right.

Tom Holliday, the Kim's lawyer at the time, brazenly said he didn't think Kim planned to resign from Congress, and Kim himself seems to have no plans to do so. The day Kim pleaded guilty, he was not available to the press, but Holliday said his client was "hurt, saddened and embarrassed" by his admission.

I'll say.

Kim had denied his guilt since 1993.

The dilemma for House Speaker Newt Gingrich is perplexing: what to do with Kim? Because he pleaded guilty only to misdemeanors his fate is not sealed under House rules. There is no automatic sanction. Now, Lamar Smith must "assume the position." If he and his committee do not force Kim to resign, all hell is likely to break loose spurred on my Democrat drum beaters -- including us.

Gingrich and Smith have another problem: why are they "investigating" Kim at all? According to the FBI and the Justice Department he took illegal money. He didn't return it, and he's most likely going to prison or facing a very long parole.

Is this any way to heighten the lowest respect Americans have had for Congress in this nation's history?

Well, we're not sure.

Who is Jay Kim anyway? How about some comic relief before we get serious: I'll let Kim's and his press aide's own words -- as read on Kim's Internet site -- give you a clue. The CAPS are our American Politics "asnides."

Anyone looking for the embodiment of the American Dream would be hard-pressed to find a better example than Congressman Jay Kim. SURE -- IF YOU THINK CONGRESS SHOULD TAKE BRIBES.

When Jay Kim took on the well-established, local political names of California's 41st Congressional district for his seat in the U. S. House of Representatives in 1992, most thought it was an impossible task. Betting against the odds AND USING CHIPS PROVIDED BY HIS KOREAN CORPORATE PALS, Jay entered the race and came away with a stunning and historic victory, making him the only Korean-American ever elected to Congress. STUNNING, INDEED -- TO THE COMPANIES THAT HAD TO PAY THE BILL FOR HIS CAMPAIGN.

But, it doesn't surprise anyone who knows Jay Kim. From his childhood in strife-ridden Korea, to working as a janitor and a busboy to pay his way through school, to his rise to prominence by building a successful engineering firm and his improbable LIKELY election to the US Congress, Jay has spent his life taking on challenges AND BRIBES and fighting uphill battles others said couldn't be won AND BLAMING THIS ROUGH CHILDHOOD FOR HIS PENCHANT TO BREAK THE LAW.


In a rousing speech, using himself as an example, Jay extolled the virtues of personal responsibility CRIME and hard work to realize the American Dream. Unexpectedly, Jay was cast as the "role model" for American immigrants, saying, "Hopefully, they can look at me and say, "He made it. HE STOLE IT. Why can't I?"

Jay's rapidly growing reputation also cast him into the national media spotlight. Time magazine profiled candidate Kim as one of the political "outsiders", who was a "new broom to sweep a dirty Congress clean." WE'RE ROLLING ON THE FLOOR OVER THIS ONE.

And, shortly after entering office, the National Journal touted Kim as one of the "upwardly mobile" new Members of Congress and "a classic American success story." SHOWS HOW RELIABLE THEY ARE: IF UPWARDLY MOBILE MEANS HAVING A POLITICALLY "GOLD" KOREAN EXPRESS CARD, WE KNOW WHAT THEY WERE GETTING AT.

Since taking office, Congressman Kim has gone to work changing the way Washington and Congress operate. YOU BET: LIKE NEWT GINGRICH, HE "PLEADS GUILTY" AND GETS TO STAY IN CONGRESS.

Jay has championed the causes of federal downsizing BY TAKING LESSER BRIBES, fiscal responsibility BY LAUNDERING MONEY and reduced federal regulation BY REMAINING IN CONGRESS while touting a perfect 100% voting attendance record by casting a vote for the 41st district in every single one of the more than 1,700 votes taken since coming to office. AND WHY NOT? IT'S GREAT MONEY JUST TO PUSH A BUTTON!

Jay has gone about winning the respect of both his Democrat and Republican colleagues -- YEAH RIGHT -- through his no-nonsense approach to the legislative process. THAT'S RIGHT -- GIVE ME THE CASH, I'LL GIVE YOU MY VOTE -- NOW THAT'S "NO-NONSENSE" PERSONIFIED!

He has managed to keep his parochial perspective while becoming a player "PLAYER" IS RIGHT in Washington political circles as a key member of Republican CASH-LAUNDERING Leadership.

To that end, Jay was unanimously voted a Subcommittee Chairman on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (Subcommittees: Public Buildings & Economic Development [Chairman] and Water Resources). CHECK HIS VOTES AND LEADERSHIP IN THAT COMMITTEE. WE'LL BET DOLLARS TO DONUTS HE THREW SOME GIFTS TO HIS CONTRIBUTORS! In addition, Kim serves on the International Relations Committee (Subcommittees: Asia & Pacific and Western Hemisphere). SO HE CAN HELP HIS "FRIENDS" OVERSEAS. Jay has also gained respect as a collaborator POOR CHOICE OF A WORD, P.J. on the Contract With THAT'S CONTRACT ON America, delivering a Republican majority to Congress for the first time since 1952.

Jay continues to push the Contract agenda and has co-sponsored and fought for approval of the historic line-item veto and Congressional Term Limits. He is a co-sponsor of the Balanced Budget Amendment EVERY BUDGET BUT HIS and continues to lead the call for its passage. Making it clear that the 41st district is his number one priority AFTER HIMSELF, Jay went after and won a spot on the House Transportation Committee, where his experience in the private sector as a civil engineer has served Southern California AND HIS CONTRIBUTORS well. Jay has gone to bat for Southern California AND CORPORATE KOREA, ensuring that it THEY receive(s) its share of federal support PORK and fulfilling his own campaign promise of bringing more jobs and commerce to his district AND SOUTH KOREA by securing funding for transportation, water supply and pollution treatment projects AND A VARIETY OF OTHER PORK BARREL PROJECTS. In December 1994, Jay single-handedly secured federal funds YOU BET to keep Orange County transit running as the county government declared bankruptcy AND HIMSELF IN OFFICE.

Jay has continued to garner accolades as he led the charge for Congressional investigations into railroad safety AND HIMSELF.

True to his small businessman roots, Jay continues to work tirelessly to remove the regulatory burden on America's small businesses AND CONGRESSMEN WHO LIKE TO EXTORT ILLEGAL CONTRIBUTIONS FROM THEM.

Jay authored bills to help entrepreneurs in their relations with government, by redefining independent contractors AS SOURCES OF CAMPAIGN CASH under the tax law and by allowing repair shops and car dealers to operate on-board diagnostic systems under the Clean Air Act. Jay's efforts to clean up government waste and reduce federal spending have won him national praise from the members of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce (Spirit of Enterprise Award), Citizens Against Government Waste (Taxpayer Hero), Watchdogs of the Treasury (Golden Bulldog Award) and the Free EXPENSIVE Congress Foundation (Sound Dollar Award). ALL OF THESE FINE ORGANIZATIONS SUPPORT BRIBING THE CONGRESS.

He has also been honored as a "Guardian of Small Business" by the National Federation of Independent Business -- THAT'S FOR SURE; a "Champion of Property Rights" DITTO by the League of Private Property Voters; a "Guardian of Seniors' Rights" by the 60/Plus Association; the Thomas Jefferson Award FOR WHAT, ADVOCATING SLAVERY? from the National Wholesale Grocers and International Foodservice Distributors Association; and the National Security Leadership Award from the National Security Caucus. HE GOT THAT AWARD FOR ASSURING HIS OWN SECURITY.

In addition, during the 103rd Congress, Jay was bestowed with the "Outstanding Legislative Leadership Award" by his freshman class colleagues and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, presented to immigrants who have made an outstanding contribution to the United States. Jay was born in Seoul, Korea.

Upon completion of his service in the South Korean Army in 1961, Jay applied for a student visa and came to the United States. Working his way through school, Jay earned both bachelors and masters degrees in Civil Engineering from the University of Southern California. In 1976, Jay started Jaykim Engineers, a firm that specializes in designing highways and water reclamation projects. Jay built the business into a firm of 130 employees, with offices in three Western states. Jay, himself, is an award winning engineer, registered in five Western states, and Jaykim Engineers has been recognized as one of the top 500 design firms in the country. WELL, IF HE'S THAT SUCCESSFUL, WHY DIDN'T HE FINANCE HIS OWN CAMPAIGN?

Prior to his election to the U. S. House Representatives, Jay held public office as a member of the Diamond Bar City Council. WE OUGHT TO CHECK THEIR RECORDS. Jay made an immediate impact and was rewarded with his election as mayor of Diamond Bar in 1991. Jay and June Kim, his wife of 35 years, reside in Diamond Bar, California, where they both are active in community and civic activities. The Kims have three grown children and 1 grandchild.

God rest their political souls.

I read a long report from the Southern California Studies Center, University of Southern California on the riots in Los Angeles during 1992.

All kidding aside, how did Kim arrive in Congress? It's an interesting story of a man with all the right credentials and a desire for political power that took root at just the right time.

The Los Angeles riots of 1992 displayed Asian-Americans and Latinos as central players in national race relations and forced Americans to confront multiracial problems. As American society began to confront its multiracial makeup, Korean-Americans collectively began their quest for political integration and empowerment, although particular Korean businesspeople, like Sonia Suk of Los Angeles, had been a driving business (and quiet but strong political) ally for many years.

The new impetus behind Korean commitment for political power arises from a clear sense that the economic losses suffered by Korean-Americans during the 1992 riots -- following the Rodney King beating and the lack of government response in the community's rebuilding attempts -- stem from their then-weak political connections.

To remedy their political exclusion, Korean-Americans began the difficult process of political activism. While their national political formation has begun to take shape with the founding of some key organizations, their efforts have taken the most concrete shape in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, where Mr. Kim was elected and re-elected twice.

In this region, Korean-Americans have made an impact on the mainstream political process, forcing it to confront new issues and complexities and electing Jay Kim in the process.

Korean-Americans, representing less than two percent of the Los Angeles population, lost 2,300 businesses and sustained $350 million of the $785 million in property damage during the riots of 1992. The Korean-American community faced an immediate political crisis in the storm surrounding the causes of the riots and a more sustained political crisis in the politics of rebuilding. At the center of this discourse was the Soon Ja Du incident of 1991. The incident involved a Korean-American store owner -- Soon Ja Du -- who shot and killed a thirteen year-old African American girl -- Latasha Harlins -- in a dispute over a bottle of orange juice.

When Superior Court Judge Joyce Karlin fined Du $500 and sentenced her to probation and 400 hours of community service, her decision was met with protest from the African-American community and exacerbated existing tension between Korean-American merchants and African-American community activists.

From the Korean-American perspective, the Soon Ja Du incident and the Black-Korean tension was seen as a case of scapegoating Korean-Americans for the riots and the economic loss the community suffered

As anger within the community grew, the existing political establishment within the Korean-American community -- represented most powerfully by the Korean Federation -- could not protect the community. Fettered by language barriers and a lack of ties, the Korean Federation vented its frustration within the borders of the Korean-American newspapers and radio, having little or no impact on the mainstream media.

In the discussions encompassing the causes of the riots, the Korean-American community found a new leader in Angela Oh, a second-generation Korean-American criminal defense lawyer who had been active in liberal circles in Los Angeles politics but unknown within the Korean-American community.

She protested the media's coverage of Korean-Americans as dehumanized gun-toting vigilantes and blamed the media for failing to discuss the neglect of the inner cities that created the conditions for the Riots.

Oh quickly established tied with other prominent Korean-Americans such as Marcia Choo and Ryan Song, both of whom spoke as representatives of the Korean-American community.

Individuals such as Bong Hwan Kim (Executive Director of the Korean Youth and Community Center [KYCC]) and Roy Hong (Executive Director of Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates [KIWA] - a progressive labor organization), became key Korean-American figures in the rebuilding effort and new political figures within the Korean-American community

Liberals such as Angela Oh and Bong Hwan Kim were clearly identified with the Democratic Party, while conservatives such as Jay Kim and Michelle Park-Steel brought with them clear institutional ties to the Republican Party.

For many Korean-Americans, the timing of the riots, coming after over a decade of Republican control of both the White House and the Governor's Mansion, placed the blame squarely on Republican leadership and their policies of fiscal austerity and political hostility toward the inner cities.

Where liberals mentioned racial injustice and inner city neglect as the cause of riots, Korean-American conservatives like Jay Kim have argued that the root of the riots were to be found in the "failure" of the liberal welfare state and the Civil Rights Coalition.

Moreover, Kim and others of his persuasion argued that the Korean-American community, with its large segment of small businessmen, could best pursue their political interests through the Republican Party.

While appealing to the material interests of Korean-Americans, Jay Kim also emphasized the recent changes within the Republican Party. More specifically, he cited the increasing prominence of racial minorities such as Colin Powell, Ward Connerly (a key architect in the undermining of California's affirmative action programs), himself, and Wendy Gramm (an "investigated" Korean-American appointee to the Department of Commerce under George Bush and the wife of Senator and Presidential Candidate Phil Gramm) within the Party as proof that the GOP is now inclusive of racial minorities and "legal" immigrants.

How ridiculous can you get?

While KADC has begun to synthesize the Korean-American community with an explicit partisan label, KARA, the Republican faction, has become one of the strongest political forces in the Korean-American community since the riots. Its major political victory came only months after the riots with the election of Jay Kim to the House of Representatives in November, 1992.

As the very first Korean-American to be elected to a federal office, Kim brought quick "legitimacy" to KARA and galvanized Korean-American conservatives. In his five years as Congressman, Kim has aggressively followed an ultra-conservative agenda, refusing to join the Democratic-dominated Asian American Caucus in the House and becoming a co-sponsor of California's politically-charged Proposition 187 that sought to deny government benefits to undocumented aliens -- including some Koreans.

In 1995, KARA stepped up their activities when it hosted a fund-raising dinner for Phil Gramm's presidential campaign and, in 1996, co-hosted Bob Dole's victory speech in California's primaries.

It is clear that the riots resulted in the Korean-American community's commitment to engage the mainstream political process and to seed political power as so many immigrant groups have in the past.

While Korean-Americans are united in their commitment to political power, they are fiercely split along partisan lines.

Liberals have argued that Korean-Americans are an oppressed racial minority group and their rights and interests can be best protected by joining the Civil Rights Coalition and the Democratic Party.

In contrast, conservatives like Jay Kim have insisted that Korean-Americans have fundamental economic and political differences with key members of the Civil Rights Coalition and that Korean-Americans can better meet their interests through the Republican Party and its commitment to fiscal conservatism, law and order, and the "dismantling of the welfare state." Before Kim pleaded guilty to federal crimes, if was unclear whether the liberals or conservatives would win the debate within the Korean-American community.

The Republican Party, as it tried to do in 1980, once again seeks to reinvent itself as an "inclusive" party in the face of its realization that America's changing demography will spell its doom.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon your perspective, the GOP has failed miserably in this quest. Certainly one can count blacks dedicated to traditional Republican "values" on two hands, and with the loss of Congressman Kim -- one way or the other -- Koreans and perhaps other ethnic minorities flirting with the GOP will come to their senses and stay with the Democrats who have traditionally, although not very well, carried their banners.

Jay Kim is untrustworthy not only because he accepted campaign cash from Korean-controlled companies which violated not only foreign money regulations but also size rules, but because he was assigned, by Newt Gingrich, to the Asia-Pacific subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee, making him the only Asian-American both on the subcommittee and the Republican Party.

This assignment put Kim, whether he chose to take advantage of it or not, in the suspicious role of a powerful congressman who could impact on the health of Korean companies in their trade relations with the U.S.

Toady's announcement that the Justice Department is now investigating with the FBI may be one indication of just how the Jay Kim contributions may be magically or factually linked to the GOP's favorite conspiracy theory that China was funneling money into political campaigns in order to dictate voting habits of recipient congressmen and women.

Certainly China would not funnel money through South Korean corporations, but the Justice Department search might reveal some untended-to files regarding the Kim contributions.

Time will tell.

Haitai America Corp. is the fifth South Korean company to face charges over giving money to the campaign

The indictment of Haitai America Inc. last year by a Los Angeles grand jury signaled that the US Attorney's Office has not given up on its nearly five-year investigation into illegal donations to Kim's 1992.

The grand jury indicted Haitai America Inc., a subsidiary of South Korea-based Haitai International Inc., on two counts of laundering $2,800 in corporate campaign contributions through three employees of the company's branch office formerly located in Downey, California but now based in Rosemead.

In an interview, one of the employees, Brian Yeon Soo Chang, acknowledged his role in making a $1,000 donation to Kim. He said he was asked by a superior to make the donation after the congressman's campaign had returned a corporate contribution. "There had been no Korean-American congressman in United States and our company had wanted to help him," Chang said after the indictment was unsealed. "We didn't think it was a significant amount [of money]. We didn't think it would cause this kind of problem."

Hyundai, Korean Air Lines, Daewoo and Samsung, South Korea's largest corporations, have been convicted of secretly funneling $23,500 to Kim's 1992 campaign by using employees as conduits for corporate funds.

They have paid a record $1.2 million in fines. But one wonders just why these companies are allowed to continue to do business in the United States and why their executives are not in American jails.

The only explanation seems to be that Congress itself is the shakedown artist and the shaken are corporations -- American and foreign -- who have gotten the message that "Money talks and all else walks." Believe me, that's the name of the game. And anyone who argues with it, is lying or just plain stupid.

A federal jury acquitted Hyundai Motor America executive Paul Koh of funneling illegal campaign contributions to Kim, saying prosecutors failed to prove Koh's role in the scheme. But public records that have emerged during the court cases have shown that Kim attended a meeting of the Korean Traders Club in Los Angeles where businessmen discussed making illegal contributions to his campaign.

Haitai was indicted on one count of making an illegal corporate contribution and one count of making contributions through other individuals. The company faces a maximum fine of $400,000 if convicted on both counts. Haitai made the contributions through three employees: general manager Hyun Sik Joo; assistant manager of the international trade division Phillip Taehan Kim; and Chang, manager of the international trade division. Chang said that Joo had asked him to make the donation after Kim returned a donation from the company.

The company sent a company check to Kim as a donation, but Kim's office returned the check explaining that they were not supposed to accept a company check. The indictment alleges that Haitai reimbursed employee donations and falsely noted them in company records as travel-expense reimbursements. Haitai imports metal goods and electronic products such as Sherwood car stereos, and exports orange-juice concentrate from a plant near Ontario International Airport in San Bernardino County.

And where are competing American companies in all this? Silent as snakes for fear they'll be unveiled for having done similar things, or frightened as rabbits for fear of incurring the wrath of Congress for exposing this sham?

When the Kims pleaded guilty US Attorney Nora Manella underscored that Kim's wife June and his campaign committee had also been charged with the campaign finance violations that include accepting donations from corporations and from a foreign national.

"The charges demonstrate that Congressman Kim, his wife and his campaign committee, over a period of years, knowingly and willfully disregarded the campaign finance laws applicable to all candidates for federal office," Manella said in a statement. "Congressman Kim and his wife have acknowledged their criminal conduct and accepted responsibility for it."

Yet a spokesman for the US Attorney's office said it would recommend no more than six months jail time for the Kims, although the judge will have the final say.

The spokesman said the three counts Kim was pleading guilty to and the two his wife were admitting to are misdemeanors. As such, Kim was unlikely to lose his seat in the House of Representatives.

In short, the Kims copped a plea, much as Newt Gingrich did with his $300,000 fine without benefit of Department of Justice largesse. If politicians are interested in asking Ms. Reno questions, this may be the best subject to test.

What's going on in Washington?

If the Kims pleaded guilty to felonies, Jay Kim might face expulsion from the House. So Kim agreed to plead guilty to three counts -- accepting an illegal $50,000 campaign contribution from a Taiwanese citizen, contributing more than $83,000 in illegal corporate contributions from JAYKIM Engineers Inc. to his campaign and accepting an illegal $12,000 corporate contribution from Nikko Enterprises Inc. June Kim plead guilty to two counts for accepting more than $19,000 in illegal corporate contributions.

Jay Kim also has pleaded or will plead guilty on behalf of his campaign committee to five felony counts of concealing illegal contributions of over $200,000. The US Attorney's office previously obtained convictions against five Korean-based multinational corporations which made illegal campaign contributions to Kim's 1992 campaign.

Korean Airlines, Hyundai Motor America, Samsung America, Daewoo International America and Haitai America have paid a total of $1.6 million in fines.

If you thinks about it, you'll realize that the extortion begins with congress members like Kim -- the majority, I'd say.

Otherwise every member would be up in arms about Kim, Newt, and the rest who have actually and factually been caught at it. Sure, business plays a role, but it's the Congress that shakes them down.

You can take that to the bank.

Is this nation up for sale for $1.6 million? No, more like a few billion in extorted-from-business "donations."

If you want to know the reason why Congress continually focuses on the White House, I think you have your answer -- it lies with Congressman Kim and not what he did, but what so many are afraid to reveal -- a bipartisan shakedown in exchange for legislative favoritism -- a story older than written history itself.

Perhaps Anne McBride and Common Cause -- if they have the guts -- ought to focus on the Kim conspiracy and others like it -- many others. If it does, it may open the biggest can of worms in US political history -- one that could shake the very foundation of this democracy.

And that, my friends, is why it'll never happen.

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