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From Fixing Elections to Fixing Government Contracts

The Empress of Elections herself, Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.), just can’t seem to stay away from controversy.

In 2000, it was her role as secretary of state overseeing Florida’s presidential balloting that made her controversial. Today, it’s ties to a Congressional bribery scandal. Last Friday, Mitchell Wade, former president of the defense contractor MZM, pled guilty to bribing Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.).  In addition, Wade admitted to making illegal campaign contributions to Harris and Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Va.).

Harris received $50,000 from MZM employees and the company’s political action committee during 2004, making them the largest source of contributions to her re-election campaign.  Of this $50,000, $32,000 was illegally funneled through employees by reimbursing them for individual donations.  Only two weeks ago did Harris return the illegal contributions, months after the allegations came to light.

Like other lobbyists involved in the recent wave of ethics scandals, Mitchell Wade and MZM didn’t donate to Harris out of the kindness of their hearts.  Following MZM’s largesse in 2004, Wade took Harris to dinner in early 2005 to discuss holding a fundraiser for her and to ask for federal funding to build a Navy counterintelligence facility in Florida.  Soon after, in April, 2005, Harris submitted a $10 million defense appropriations request for the project – an "earmarked" request.  While the proposal was ultimately rejected, questions continue to swirl around the former Ruler of Recounts.  Roll Call is reporting today that Harris’ scheduler, Mona Tate Yost, job left her position and took a job with Wade at MZM in May 2005.

Nor is this the first time Harris has faced questions about her fundraising.  During her 1994 campaign for state senate, Harris received $30,000 from a Floridacompany that was later investigated for violating campaign finance laws.  According to a 1997 interview, Harris expressed regret at being unaware of the questionable contributions and added that, “when it comes from one corporation, I think there’s always a problem of perception."

As Talking Points Memo points out, this problem of "perception" can only increase when Rep. Harris lies about the contributions to the media, as some columnists in Florida are accusing her of doing. And just when you think the whole affair couldn’t get any more rank, consider this: in the middle of the media’s Abramoff/lobbyist reform feeding frenzy, Harris promised to disclose all of her earmark requests. Except, apparently, this earmark request. Her spokesman says it’s "privileged information" and they’re not handing it over.

Why are we not surprised?

Come back to the Clean Up Washington blog for updates on this juicy scandal, and all the latest in corruption and reform news….

-Collin Jergens