WASHINGTON — Former California Rep. Jay Kim's political fund-raising arm has filed for bankruptcy, casting doubt on whether the $170,000 fine levied against the committee for campaign contribution violations will ever be paid.
In an interview, the former Diamond Bar congressman said he has suffered enough and is not personally responsible for the fine owed by the committee.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Edward Moreton in Los Angeles said Friday that his office is examining its options in the wake of the bankruptcy filing. "It's the government's position that the campaign committee should comply with its obligation and pay the fine that the District Court ordered it to pay," Moreton said.
But the latest development in the long-running political soap opera starring Kim raised questions about whether the government can ever expect to collect the fine.
The fine was levied for what prosecutors called "the largest amount of criminal campaign finance violations ever committed by a member of Congress."
"I just don't have any way of paying the fine," Kim's campaign treasurer, Upland attorney Greg Annigian, said Friday. He said he even paid the $175 bankruptcy filing fee out of his own pocket.
A political watchdog group in Washington expressed concern that the filing could open a loophole for candidates who break campaign finance laws and hope to avoid penalties. "You take away the consequences [for campaign finance violations], you render the limits meaningless," said Sheila Krumholz, research director for the Center for Responsive Politics.
But Steven A. Mansfield, who prosecuted the case against Kim and is now in private practice in Los Angeles, said it is premature to assume that the fine against Kim's committee will not be collected. Mansfield said he expects the government to closely scrutinize the bankruptcy filing to determine "whether there were any false or fraudulent statements in it."
Kim, who in 1992 became the first Korean American elected to Congress, pleaded guilty in 1997 to accepting more than $230,000 in illegal campaign contributions from corporations and foreign companies.
His campaign committee was fined $170,000, of which $20,000 was paid in April 1998. No other payments have been made, even though the court order required payments of $7,500 every three months for five years.
Last year, Kim spent two months under home confinement with an electronic monitoring device strapped to his ankle and was sentenced to perform 200 hours of community service and pay a $5,000 fine. The confinement prevented him from campaigning in the final weeks of the June primary, and he lost the GOP nomination to Gary Miller.
Miller then won the general election in the 41st Congressional District, which includes all or parts of Pomona, Yorba Linda and Ontario.
Noting that the fine was imposed more than a year ago, Moreton said, "Since that time, the campaign did spend quite a bit of money on Mr. Kim's reelection campaign."
But Annigian said the government "can't tell me they honestly expected to be paid this fine," asserting that Kim's two-month home confinement hampered his fund-raising efforts.
Papers filed by Kim's campaign last month in U.S. Bankruptcy Court list $778,000 in debts. The biggest creditor is Kim, who loaned $272,000 to the campaign.
Kim is living in Virginia but said he plans to move back to California. The ex-congressman said he is lecturing in South Korea on U.S. politics and writing a book about his experiences. "I'd like to get my reputation back," he said.