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Katherine Harris

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Katherine Harris served the 13th Congressional district of Florida from 2003 to 2007

Katherine Harris was a Republican member of the U. S. House of Representatives representing the 13th District of Florida (map) from 2003 to 2007. She also served as Florida's Secretary of State during the controversial Florida Recount of 2000. She opted to run for Senate in 2006, where she was defeated by Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

Bio

Background

Harris was born April 5, 1957 in Key West, Florida. She was educated at the University of Madrid in Spain and received her Bachelor's Degree in history from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia [1], and earned a Mid-Career Master in Public Administration degree from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in 1997 [1][2]. She was also a real estate broker, a member of the Florida Senate (1995-1999) and Florida Secretary of State (1999-2002) before entering the House.

In 2002, Harris ran for the congressional district vacated by retiring Republican Rep. Dan Miller, winning by 10 percentage points in this predominantly Republican-leaning district.

Harris considered running for the seat of retiring Senator Bob Graham in 2004, but was reportedly dissuaded under pressure from the Bush White House to allow Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez to run for the open seat. Martinez went on to narrowly beat challenger Betty Castor.

2006 Senate Race

On June 7, 2005, Harris announced her intention to run for the Republican Senate nomination in Florida to challenge incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in the 2006 Florida U.S. Senate election. In a survey of voters taken August 23-29, 2005, Nelson garnered 57 percent to Harris's 33 percent. [3]

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove both declined to endorse Harris' 2006 Senate campaign and the governor went so far as to try and recruit the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Allan Bense to run against her. [4] In a survey of voters taken June 22-26, 2005 pitting Nelson against Bensen, Nelson would have been favored 50 percent to Bense's 26 percent.[5] In early August 2005, Bense declined to challenge Harris, saying the timing was not right.

The Florida state Republican Party also did not support her 2006 congressional bid. In a letter dated May 7th, 2006, the state Republican Party told Harris that she would not be able to win the 2006 Senatorial race against Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). However, the next day Harris submitted her paperwork to be placed on the September 5th, 2006 Republican primary ballot. This letter was obtained by the AP late July of 2006.[6]

The party leadership proved to be correct, however, and Harris was soundly defeated by Nelson in the November 2006 general election.

Meet the Cash Constituents

Links to more campaign contribution information for Katherine Harris
from the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org site.
Fundraising profile: 2006 election cycle Career totals
Top contributors by organization/corporation: 2006 election cycle Career totals
Top contributors by industry: 2006 election cycle Career totals

Controversy

2000 Election

While she was Secretary of State, Harris presided over the contested Presidential election of 2000 in Florida. It was Harris who certified that the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, had carried the State of Florida, thus giving him the election over Al Gore. Her ruling was challenged, and was overturned on appeal by the Florida Supreme Court, but was upheld upon further appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States. There were allegations of a conflict of interest since she was prominent in the Florida Bush campaign.

Harris has been accused of acting in a partisan manner in conducting the Florida election count. No charges have ever been filed. In addition to her opposition to recounts in predominantly democractic counties, those who accuse Harris of acting in a partisan manner allege that:

  • Before the election, a firm hired by Harris in her capacity as Secretary of State to purge convicted felons from the voter rolls erroneously removed 8,000 registered voters who had been convicted only of misdemeanors, thousands of others who had the same names as felons, and a few whose computer records said they had committed crimes in the future. This led to her being nicknamed the Purge Princess.
  • Harris certified the election results from 20 of Florida's 67 counties, in accordance with state law. Subsequent machine and hand recounts confirmed a narrow Republican victory.
  • Harris was much criticized for her insistence in following legal deadlines for ballot certifications. (Ultimately, court hearings validated proper procedures; subsequent multiple recounts confirmed the outcome.)

Her book, Center of the Storm (ISBN 0785264434, the first book published by the book division of conservative website WorldNetDaily[2]), published in September 2002, gives her version of events. Harris asserts that blatant partisanship by liberal operatives such as Mary Francis Barry on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights used irresponsible leaks and baseless allegations to smear her without ever attempting to prove them. She notes that Barry's assertions did not appear in the final report on the election, likely because they could not be supported by fact and would have required that Harris' rebuttal of those assertions be appended to the report as well.

Travel spending

The 2000 election controversy was not the first time Harris faced allegations of misconduct. As Secretary of State, she was criticized for lavish spending on overseas travel.[7] In her book, Center of the Storm, she refutes these allegations as baseless and partisan. Harris' annual travel budget while in office was less than her predecessor's expenses on air travel alone.

Justice and Defense investigations

In 2006, both the Justice and Defense Departments began probing Harris’ relationship with Mitchell Wade, the former head of MZM, Inc., a defense contracting firm. Wade pleaded guilty to a series of criminal bribery offenses on February 24, 2006.[3] [4]

Illegal campaign contributions from Wade

Wade confessed in his plea bargain agreement that on March 23, 2006, he engaged in an illegal "straw contributions" scheme to funnel $32,000 to Harris' campaign. In the scheme, he laundered $32,000 of his own money through his employees, thus evading federal contribution limits. The plea agreement states that: [5]

WADE met with certain MZM employees, and gave them cash or otherwise reimbursed them and, in some cases, their spouses, for contributions to Harris's Campaign. WADE's cash was then used to provide contributions in the form of checks to Representative B's Campaign in the names of the employees and, on some occasions, the employees' spouses. The employees delivered the checks to WADE, who personally handed them to Harris. WADE did not inform Harris or Harris' staff that the contributions were unlawful.[6]

Wade's plea agreement states his reasons for making the contributions:

MZM maintained a facility near Harris' district. Wade thought that Harris had the ability to request appropriations funding that would benefit MZM and that Harris would be an advocate for MZM and its existing facilities. [7]

James C. King

Retired Lt. General James C. King, the president and CEO of Athena Innovative Solutions, Inc. (the successor company to MZM Inc.), was allegedly involved in the scheme to give illegal campaign contributions to Harris. On March 23, 2004, then-MZM CEO King and possibly his wife made $8,000 in campaign contributions to Harris. This is the same day that Mitchell Wade confessed in his plea agreement that he had laundered campaign contributions to Harris through MZM employees.[8]

Internal investigation

Ed Rollins, Harris' former chief political strategist, conducted an internal investigation into Harris' dealings with MZM and does not believe that she intentionally broke any laws.[9] He has gone public with his version of Harris' interactions with Wade.

Improper dinner with Wade in 2004

According to Rollins, Wade gave Harris the illegal campaign contributions when they dined together at the upscale Washington, DC restaurant, Citronelle, in 2004.[10] Harris' campaign acknowledged on May 19, 2005 that Harris had failed to pay her share of the meal, a violation of House rules.[11]

House rules stipulate that representatives cannot accept gifts in excess of $50. The rules also forbid representatives from accepting "favors or benefits in circumstances that might create the appearance of influencing the performance of official duties," and state that they "must never accept a gift that is linked to any official action that the individual has taken, or is being asked to take." [12]

A Harris campaign spokesman has stated that Harris made a charitable donation for her share of the meal. [13]

Improper $2,800 dinner with Wade in 2005

In early 2005, Harris dined with Wade again at Citronelle. According to Rollins, the bill for the dinner was $2,800 and Wade paid for the entire sum, another violation of House rules. [8]

In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel on April 19, 2006, Harris said she had not known the full value of the meal, telling a reporter that it was "news to me." Rollins, however, has said that he and Harris discussed the meal in late summer 2005 and specifically discussed it's value in early 2006 after Wade's guilty plea. [9]

In the same interview, Harris told a reporter that her campaign had "reimbursed" the restaurant for the meal. When asked how she could have reimbursed them for a meal that had already been paid for in full, Harris immediately ended the interview. Her spokesman called the paper later that day and asked that the story not be printed. The following day, her campaign issued a statement saying that Harris had thought her campaign would be reimbursing her share of the dinner, but had later found out it did not happen. The statement also said that she had donated $100 to a local charity, "which will more than adequately compensate for the cost of my beverage and appetizer." [10]

Rollins later stated that he first discussed the dinner with Harris in late summer 2005 and she told him that she had ordered a campaign staffer to make sure that she paid her share of the meal. Jim Dornan, however, then-campaign manager for Harris, stated that he oversaw all campaign expenditures and that no staff members had ever approached him about the expense. [11]

The restaurant has also disputed Harris' assertion that most of the bill was for bottles of wine that Wade took home and was thus not part of the meal. The director of Citronelle stated that no one ever takes home unopened bottles of wine: "We are one of the top five restaurants in America. Why would we jeopardize our liquor license for the sake of selling a couple bottles of wine?" he asked. [14]

Harris sought legislative favors for MZM

At the 2005 dinner at Citronelle, Wade offered to sponsor a $200,000 fundraiser for Harris and asked her to assist him in securing $10 million in federal funding for a counterintelligence facility in Sarasota, Fla. (in her district). Harris apparently agreed to help him, submitting the request to the House Appropriations Committee. The committee rejected the request. [12] [13]

Rollins indicated that Wade may have duped Harris into her support, stating that "She heard whatever she wanted to hear, but we could find no evidence whatsoever that this was a project going into her district."[15]

Federal investigators interview Harris’ aides and request documents

On July 17, 2006, federal investigators interviewed Rollins for two hours in Washington. He would not comment on the details of the conversation, but did note that it focused on Harris' dealings with Wade and was, "serious." [14] [16]

On July 18, Justice Department officials requested records from Harris’ Senate campaign. It was unclear whether prosecutors issued a subpoena or simply sent a letter to the campaign in search of information, and a Harris spokeswoman would not elaborate. While acknowledging the request, Harris stated that she was informed that she was, "not a target of the investigation" surrounding Mitchell Wade.[15]

On August 9, federal investigators announced that they would be questioning two additional ex-staffers of Harris as part of their investigation. The FBI called Jim Dornan, a former campaign manager for Harris’ Senate campaign, and Kara Borie, a former Harris’ spokeswoman. Dornan is now a political consultant working on a congressional campaign in New York, while Borie is a spokeswoman for the Republican Party in South Carolina. [17]

On September 7, 2006, Dornan spoke to investigators from the FBI and the Defense Department in Washington for ninety-minutes. [18]

In early November 2006, Dan Berger and Ben McKay, both former Harris chiefs of staff, confirmed that federal investigators had interviewed them. They also said that it was their understanding that all congressional staff would likely be questioned. The two spoke separately to three investigators from the FBI and the Defense Department. [19]

Harris claims innocence

Harris said in April 2006 that she was introduced to Wade by then-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.).[16] She has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in connection with MZM or Wade, saying "I've done nothing wrong. The Justice Department has not asked me any questions. I simply had the opportunity to have a naval intelligence program in my district." [17]

Riscorp scandal: illegal campaign contributions

As a Florida State Senator, Harris was accused of supporting preferential legislation for Riscorp, an insurance company whose wealthy CEO, Bill Griffin, lived in Harris' Senate district.[20] Ms. Harris was also involved in introducing Mr. Griffin to the members of the Florida state legislature and received over $20,000 in donations from key Riscorp employees who had been given bonuses specifically to enable their donations.[21]

Mr. Griffin pleaded guilty to felony counts involving illegal campaign donations and conspiracy and served prison time. The Riscorp scandal involved dozens of Florida state legislators and was among the largest scandals in recent Florida history, with Harris as the largest recipient of illegal donations, which she eventually returned. However, Harris was never charged with any crime and never admitted to any willful wrongdoing. Harris was the only receiver of funds from Griffin who returned the funds received. She did so out of her own personal funds.

In July 2006, during her campaign for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Harris accused her opponent of taking $80,000 in illegal campaign contributions from Riscorp, Inc. According the Orlando Sentinel, Nelson did receive $62,000 from the company during the mid-1990s. Unlike his senatorial opponent (Ms Harris), Nelson never repaid the illegal funds he received and used in his campaign.

Ongoing legal issues

In early 2006, Harris hired campaign finance lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg after revelations of the illegal Wade contributions were made public. [18]

2006 Senate campaign

Problems with staff

On July 13, 2006, Harris’ campaign manager Glenn Hodas, the third to work for Harris, confirmed that he and four other key staffers were quitting. According to Hodas, Harris did not keep, “any of her promises” regarding her behavior, including promises “not to have tantrums, not to berate staff, not to micromanage and nitpick and not to get flustered on inconsequential details,” he said. Harris had encountered problems maintaining staff in the past, and previously claimed to be making a concerted effort to improve. According to Hodas, “None of it has changed. If anything, it's gotten worse.” [19]

Hodas also told the Tampa Tribune, story published August 2, 2006, that he and her other top campaign advisors learned of a grand jury subpoena that she hid from them. The Department of Justice issued her a subpeoena for campaign records during their investigation of her relations with defense contractor Mitchell J. Wade, in June of 2006. Hodas stated that "Yes, there was a subpoena. She didn't tell us. Finding out about the subpoena caused me to wonder about what was going on and what else I didn't know, but I don't want to comment any further on what appears to be a pending investigation," According to Hodas, this is what caused himself and other staffers to resign. [20]

On August 2, 2006, in response to Hodas' claims, Harris' senatorial campaign spokesperson released the following statement to Justin Rood of TPM Muckraker.

"It is important to point out that the Department of Justice has informed Congresswoman Harris she is not a target of the investigation. Our campaign has helped the Department of Justice in every way they have asked, and there have been no requests of the congresswoman personally, or of her congressional office, that would require a report to the House Speaker." [21]

Rood asked Jennifer Marks to eloborate on this statmen and Marks refused to do so.

On July 27, Harris' former communications director, Chris Ingram, joined the campaign of LeRoy Collins Jr., one of her Republican primary opponents for the U.S. Senate. Ingram was among those who left Harris in early July, citing Harris’ poor treatment of campaign staff. Upon joining Collins' team, he stated, "Admiral Collins has the leadership abilities, integrity, and common-sense values Florida voters need for effective representation in Washington...Governor Bush was right when he said, '(Katherine Harris) can't win.'...LeRoy Collins has the experience and determination to give Republicans their best shot at defeating (Senator Bill Nelson) this fall." [22]


Inflating her campaign's endorsements

On August 16, 2006, several members of the House called the Harris campaign to complain after the St. Petersburg Times informed them that they had been listed as having endorsed Harris on the congresswoman’s webpage. Minutes later, their names were removed. Those representatives included Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.), Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.).

Both Chris Ingram and Glenn Hodas, former Harris employees, confirmed that Harris had instructed them to use the endorsements of members even if they had not confirmed their support in writing.

[23]

On August 17, 2006 the St. Petersburg Times issued the following correction related to this story:

CORRECTION: Clarification (08/18/06): Chris Ingram and Glenn Hodas, who worked for U.S. Senate candidate Katherine Harris until mid July, said they told Harris they would not publicize a list of endorsements from Republican lawmakers without receiving their written permission. After Ingram and Hodas left the campaign, Harris' staff began publicizing a list of endorsements without written approval from at least some of the public officials on the list. A story Thursday did not fully explain their role.

[24]

Falling tree incident

On August 17, 2006, Harris held a rally for her campaign in an airport hangar at the Orlando Executive Airport. When only 40 people attended the rally, Harris blamed the poor turnout on a last-minute location change caused by a falling tree. Reporters, however, checked with the airport and were told there had been no reports of a falling tree. When confronted about the matter, Harris blamed her political director, Rhyan Metzler, saying he had told her about the tree. The following weekend, Metzler quit the Harris campaign, noting that the incident was "not necessarily" his reason for leaving. [25]

Improper claim that Gov. Jeb Bush would campaign with her

On September 8, 2006, Harris announced that Florida Governor Jeb Bush would be campaigning with her during the two months leading up to the November election. The Governor's Office, however, did not confirm the validity of the announcement. Rather, it referred questions about Harris to the state Republican Party, where spokesman Jeff Sadosky said that the governor had not agreed to campaign with Harris. He stated, “We've not heard anything from the Governor's Office one way or the other.” [26]

Church and state

In August 2006, Harris told interviewers from the Florida Baptist Witness, the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention, that God did not intend for the United States to be a "nation of secular laws." She added that separation of church and state is a "lie we have been told" to keep religious individuals away from politics.

She continued, "If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin." Harris bluntly admitted that her religious views "animate" everything she does as a member of Congress. [27]

On August 28, the Harris’ campaign sought to clarify her comments through a statement. It noted that the congresswoman had been, "speaking to a Christian audience, addressing a common misperception that people of faith should not be actively involved in government."

Rather than reflecting discriminatory views, the comments, according to the statement, were meant to reflect "her deep grounding in Judeo-Christian values." [28]

Whispering campaign against Joe Scarborough

In the summer of 2005, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, approached television host and former congressman Joe Scarborough about challenging Harris for the 2006 Republican U.S. Senate nomination to run against Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). Scarborough then called Dornan and Rollins to let them know he wouldn't be running but needed a few days to tell his supporters privately. [29]

However, Harris then started calling Republican campaign donors, telling them that Scarborough's campaign would be hurt by questions about an aide to Scarborough who had died in an accident when he was a member of Congress in 2001. The aide's family and the medical examiner said that there was no foul play involved. Word of her calls apparently got back to Scarborough, who said he was shocked that she would repeat "the slanderous attacks." [30]

Harris' calls were confirmed by one Republican donor and two then-staffers:

  • Pensacola developer and Republican donor Collier Merill said that Harris told him Scarborough would have problems when "they start asking questions... about that dead girl."
  • Former Harris campaign manager Jim Dornan said he heard Harris tell more than one donor that "I don't know what he's thinking when he's got this whole issue of a dead intern on his hands."
  • Rollins confirmed the account to the Miami Herald. [31]

Harris' campaign has denied the story outright but Dornan has said that Harris tried to blame him for the calls when Scarborogh called the campaign to demand an explanation. [32]

Won't return money from Rep. Bob Ney

In 2002 and 2004, Harris received money from Rep. Bob Ney’s (R-Ohio) political action committee, American Liberty PAC ($6,000 total). When Ney agreed to plead guilty to accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for political favors, she was pressured to return the money, as many legislators had. Harris, however, claimed that she could neither return it nor give it to charity, for it was given to her during her congressional races and had been spent. She added that she would, “have to see what we can do.” [33]

Committees and Affiliations

Committees in the 109th Congress (2005-2006)

  • House Committee on Financial Services
    • Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity
    • Subcommittee on Capital Markets Insurance and Government Sponsored Enterprises
    • Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy Trade and Technology
  • House Committee on Homeland Security
    • Subcommittee on Economic Security Infrastructure Protection and Cybersecurity
    • Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness Science and Technology
    • Subcommittee Management Integration and Oversight
  • House Committee on International Relations
    • Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia
    • Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere

More Background Data

Wikipedia also has an article on Katherine Harris. This article may use content from the Wikipedia article under the terms of the GFDL.

Articles and Resources

References

  1. "Harris goes 'Beyond Ballots' at KSG", Harvard University Gazette, February 7, 2002.
  2. [http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=15038 "Katherine Harris book release near"], WorldNetDaily, August 28, 2002.
  3. "TPM Grand Ole Docket", Talking Points Memo, accessed March 20, 2008.
  4. "Harris says feds contacted her in bribery probe", Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 19, 2006.
  5. "'Statement of Offenses' from Mitchell Wade's Guilty Plea", Talking Points Memo, Febraury 24, 2006.
  6. "'Statement of Offenses' from Mitchell Wade's Guilty Plea", Talking Points Memo, Febraury 24, 2006.
  7. "'Statement of Offenses' from Mitchell Wade's Guilty Plea", Talking Points Memo, Febraury 24, 2006.
  8. "Hayden Aide Assisted in Illegal MZM Donation Scam", TPM Muckraker, may 8, 2006.
  9. "Briber paid for 2nd meal for Harris", St. Petersburg Times, May 21, 2006.
  10. "Briber paid for 2nd meal for Harris", St. Petersburg Times, May 21, 2006.
  11. "Briber paid for 2nd meal for Harris", St. Petersburg Times, May 21, 2006.
  12. "Briber paid for 2nd meal for Harris", St. Petersburg Times, May 21, 2006.
  13. "Briber paid for 2nd meal for Harris", St. Petersburg Times, May 21, 2006.
  14. "Briber paid for 2nd meal for Harris", St. Petersburg Times, May 21, 2006.
  15. "Briber paid for 2nd meal for Harris", St. Petersburg Times, May 21, 2006.
  16. "Florida rep focus of grand jury probe", St. Petersburg Times, July 20, 2006.
  17. "Katherine Harris ex-aides added to investigation", St. Petersburg Times, August 9, 2006.
  18. "Feds interview Harris' ex-campaign manager", St. Petersburg Times, September 9, 2006.
  19. "FBI questions two more former aides to Harris", St. Petersburg Times, November 2, 2006.
  20. "Harris backed bill aiding Riscorp". St. Petersburg Times, August 25, 1998.
  21. "See-saw farce grips the sunshine state" , The Observer (UK), November 19, 2000.

Resources

Congresspedia & SourceWatch Resources

Local blogs and discussion sites

Articles

Contact

DC Office:
116 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-5015
Fax: 202-226-0828
Email: Katherine.Harris@mail.house.gov
Web Email
Website

District Office - Bradenton:
1112 Manatee Avenue West
9th Floor
Bradenton, FL 34205
Phone: 941-747-9081
Fax: 941-749-5310

District Office - Sarasota:
1991 Main Street, Suite 181
Sarasota, FL 34236
Phone: 941-951-6643
TollFree: 800-453-4184
Fax: 941-951-2972