Imitation isn’t always a form of flattery, and a website created by California Democrat Gil Cisneros’ congressional campaign shows why. The site has a name, YoungKimforCongress.org, that makes it easily mistaken for the website of Cisneros’ opponent, Young Kim. But the Democrat-created website’s content and slogan -- "Just like Donald Trump" -- are anything but flattering to Kim, a Republican.
The site has a lot to chew on, but standing out to PolitiFact was a section on Kim’s personal taxes. It says Kim is "a tax cheat" who "illegally claimed a $7,000 annual homestead exemption on a house she wasn’t living in," had "multiple tax liens placed on her" as a result and "owes over $10,000 in unpaid federal income taxes."
"Cheat" and "illegally" are serious words. To understand them fully here, let’s look at the facts, with a little teaser to get started: The property taxes we’re discussing amounted to $387.
If you own a home, you pay property taxes on it. But many states give a tax break to people who live in their homes. This is called a homeowner’s or homestead exemption, and in California it is relatively small. By claiming it, a California homeowner can reduce the assessed value of his or her home by a maximum of $7,000 -- which saves the homeowner about $70 a year in actual taxes.
Kim and her husband, Charles, owned a home in the Orange County community of La Habra, and had a homeowner’s exemption through the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015. But Kim had moved to a different home in a different community, Fullerton, in late 2012, and in January 2013 changed her voter registration to reflect this. She moved again to a third home, in Fullerton, in 2014.
Kim and her husband still owned the home in La Habra -- renting it out as income property -- and still got the homeowner’s exemption. Under California law, homeowners are only supposed to get the exemption if they live in the home. This meant the Kims continued to get a $74 annual benefit she and her husband weren’t entitled to.
After Orange County realized this, it filed two liens against the Kims for "unsecured property taxes," one for $197.96 and the other for $189.39, on Oct. 13, 2015. Such liens typically included a penalty and interest, Orange County Assessor Claude Parrish told us.
The county lifted the liens on Sept. 30, 2016, after the Kims paid. The total penalty: $387.
These basic facts, most of them noted or available through links in the spoof Kim website, were confirmed independently by PolitiFact through Orange County public records, interviews and a financial disclosure form Kim filed after she was elected to the California State Assembly in 2014.
But none of these address an important point: Did Kim dupe the county -- was she a "tax cheat" -- so she could save $74 a year?
Parrish, the county tax assessor, told us the liens should never have been issued. Parrish said this in 2016 as well, when the matter arose during Kim’s unsuccessful re-election campaign for the State Assembly.
Parrish, whose office is nonpartisan but who has served as a Republican in previous offices, issued a statement during that race, saying Kim had notified his predecessor in 2014 "that she was no longer living at the home in question as of December 2012 and thus was not eligible for the homeowner’s exemption."
"Unfortunately," his statement continued, "notices from the county in regard to this property were mailed to Ms. Kim at an old address and not forwarded to her, a common problem when people move. Through no fault of her own, a lien was placed on her property for a small amount of taxes due. This happens to innocent taxpayers like Ms. Kim all too often, and is a direct result of the notices not being properly forwarded by the U.S. Postal Service."
In a telephone interview, Parrish told us, "This could happen to anybody."
Parrish has crusaded on this very issue -- thousands of liens issued for very small amounts, potentially harming the credit of residents -- for several years. He said that 62 percent of his county’s 45,331 liens in 2015 were for $200 or less, many a result of oversight or mistakes. Parrish pushed successfully for a 2017 California bill that authorized counties to stop issuing tax liens if the amount owed is $200 or less.
Regardless of the amount, did Kim owe the money?
If Kim notified the assessor’s office in 2014 of a move that occurred in late 2012, that suggests at least a year went by before giving the proper notice. The mail issues then complicated matters, as did the fact that, according to Kim’s current campaign, she paid her property taxes through the escrow account on her mortgage.
In Kim’s 2016 state Assembly race, her political opponent, Sharon Quirk-Silva, said these were excuses that didn’t exempt Kim from her obligations as a taxpayer. Quirk-Silva’s campaign at the time issued a critical statement from a retired Los Angeles County tax assessor, Kenneth P. Hahn, who said, "The law is clear. Failure to receive notice from the U.S. Postal Service does not absolve an individual from paying their taxes."
Kim’s current campaign says this is a bit much. The discussion, after all, is over $74 a year, or $387 after penalties and interest.
The Cisneros campaign also noted on its faux Kim website that Kim and her husband owe $10,000 to $15,000 to the IRS. This information comes directly from the financial disclosure report Kim filed this year as a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Under creditors, she listed $10,000 to $15,000 owed to the IRS, with the description, "Installment of taxes due for 2009 & 2010."
Patrick Mocete, Kim’s campaign manager, told us the debt is a result of taxes due from her husband’s employment as a self-employed consultant, and he set up an installment payment plan with the IRS. That’s perfectly legal.
The Cisneros campaign says Kim is "a tax cheat" who "illegally claimed a $7,000 annual homestead exemption on a house she wasn’t living in," had "multiple tax liens placed on her" as a result and "owes over $10,000 in unpaid federal income taxes."
The IRS debt is more substantial than the property tax, but there is no information to show it has anything to do with cheating. "Cheat" implies motivation, and news stories have used the word to describe people who purposely violated homestead exemption laws to save on taxes -- typically saving much more than $74 a year. Nic Jordan, the Cisneros campaign spokesman, told us the campaign used the word colloquially.
Whether a mistake or not, Kim had two liens and owed $387 to the county as a result of an improperly recorded homeowner’s exemption. The law is the law, as Kim’s last opponent said. But it was a minor civil matter, and one that the current property assessor says never should have resulted in liens. Cisneros focused on the $7,000 annual reduction in the house’s assessment, not mentioning on the spoof website that it made a difference of $74 a year. This makes it sound far worse than it was.
With these elements combined, we rate the claim Mostly False.