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House Ethics Panel Broadens Probe of Kim's Campaigns

April 29, 1998|FAYE FIORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee announced Tuesday that it has broadened its investigation of Rep. Jay Kim, the Diamond Bar Republican who pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance violations and is now under home detention.

The panel had been examining whether to penalize Kim for violating the law during his 1992 campaign; it will expand its scope to include his campaigns for reelection in 1994, 1996 and this year, when he is seeking a fourth term.

The escalation of the investigation could not come at a more inopportune time for Kim. He is struggling to survive a tough challenge in the June 2 primary from three other Republicans while under a court order that confines him to his Washington area home or office--thus preventing him from setting foot in his district--and requires him to wear an electronic ankle bracelet for surveillance.

Kim is using surrogates to represent him on the campaign trail, where his ethical problems are the race's dominant issue. The expansion of the congressional probe almost certainly will provide additional political fodder for Kim's foes.

Kim's press secretary, P.J. O'Neil, would not speculate on the impact of Tuesday's announcement. "Congressman Kim will continue to cooperate with the investigation, as he has done in the past," O'Neil said, declining to comment further.

Kim pleaded guilty last summer to three misdemeanors involving illegal campaign contributions. The ethics panel launched its investigation weeks later to determine whether Kim's deeds warrant further sanctions by his colleagues.

After months of interviewing witnesses and collecting documents, a congressional source said, the Ethics Committee has decided there is adequate evidence to look at the financing of Kim's reelection campaigns, in addition to his first run for Congress in 1992.

Last week, Kim hired Ralph Lotkin, a prominent ethics lawyer based in Washington who has a joint practice with famed Los Angeles defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran. Lotkin said Tuesday that he could not discern from the committee's brief announcement precisely what the expansion of its probe means.

"I have not been given any guidance on it. I don't have a sense of where they are going and why," he said. "The bottom line is the congressman has acknowledged three misdemeanors. The congressman's campaign is going to pay a fine. The congressman has whatever penalty imposed on him, and he is not walking away from that."

The Ethics Committee has a range of options at its disposal, including censure, expulsion or no action at all.

Kim is the only Korean American in Congress, representing a district that crosses three counties--Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino. He is also the first House member to wear a court-ordered electronic device on the chamber floor.

Kim pleaded guilty to accepting a $50,000 donation from a Taiwanese national, taking an illegal $12,000 contribution from a New York corporation, and failing to report $83,000 in services provided to his campaign by the engineering firm he owned.

In addition to the two-month home detention that ends in mid-June, Kim was ordered to do 200 hours of community service, sentenced to one year of probation and fined $5,000. His wife, June, was sentenced to one year of probation, community service and a $5,000 fine after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor violations.

Kim's campaign committee was fined $170,000.

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