Life has come full circle for former Rep. Jay Kim. Born in Seoul, South Korea, the California Republican faced desperate poverty after his family’s home was destroyed during the Korean War. Kim immigrated to the United States on a student visa and worked his way up to owning an engineering firm and, in 1992, became the first Korean-American to be elected to Congress.
His congressional career ended when he lost in the 1998 primary to now-Rep. Gary G. Miller amid a campaign finance scandal.
In August 1997, Kim pleaded guilty to accepting and concealing $230,000 in illegal campaign contributions. He was sentenced to probation and house arrest in March 1998 and was confined to the U.S. House and his D.C.-area residence, which hampered his ability to run for re-election.
Since then, the former congressman has generally avoided addressing his campaign contribution scandal, yet he has written on his blog, Cross Your Fingers, that he genuinely did not know about the complicated laws surrounding campaign contributions.
Kim said he has learned from his experience and has moved on. “Now that I think about it, I am so thankful that I overcame the difficulties. I have gained such a valuable experience,” he wrote on the blog.
These days, Kim stays busy contributing his time and expertise to Korean issues in both his mother country and in the United States.
His life is generally an immigrant success story. He attended college, eventually getting a master’s degree in civil engineering, after washing dishes and delivering newspapers to pay bills. He set his sights high, building his own business and getting elected to Congress. Kim served three terms, from 1993 to 1999.
Since leaving Capitol Hill, he continues to engage in politics, primarily lecturing, advising and helping run the Kim Chang-jun Politics and Economy Academy in South Korea, he told CQ Roll Call in an email exchange. In addition to being chairman of the Kim Chang-jun Foundation, he is chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum.
“My passionate issue has always been to keep a good relationship between U.S. and Korea,” Kim said. He works in several advisory roles in South Korea, most notably as an adviser to the Office of the President of Korea.
The list of such positions is rather lengthy, but apart from the presidential adviser role, he says most of them generally involve attending meetings, sometimes only once a year.
Kim said he also uses his network to focus on the Korean community.