If there’s one thing that distinguishes Katherine Harris’ career, it’s the ability to play fast and loose with the rules. You might be able to believe that Harris was just looking for her missing contact lens when her hand got stuck in the MZM Inc. cookie jar, except for the pattern of such behavior her entire elected life.
Now Harris is offering to return the illegal contributions she received from the defense contractor, which is implicated in a shady deal with another Republican Representative, California’s Dean Cunningham.
Harris, R-Longboat Key, received $50,000 in contributions from defense contracting firm MZM Inc…
Most of the money was contributed individually by employees of MZM, which has headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Recent news stories have quoted anonymous MZM workers complaining that they were pressured into giving money to the firm’s political action committee. Such coercion violates federal campaign finance laws.
Harris wants to make the whole thing go away but she’s hanging onto the cash for now.
After hearing of the reports, Harris said she sent letters offering to refund the money…
This is Florida’s former Secretary of State, the person charged with not only knowing the ins and outs of every election and campaign finance law in the land, but enforcing them and prosecuting violators.
Harris said in an interview Tuesday that she has no idea if the campaign money she received was obtained illegally.
At the time they offered the contributions, Harris said MZM officials told her that the firm planned to open a facility in Sarasota.
Harris said she saw no downside: The deal would have brought at least 40 jobs to her district, and the firm’s agents were writing checks to her campaign account.
But she said she was a little puzzled by the donation, since she wasn’t assigned to any committees that handled defense budgets or policy.
At that time, she wasn’t on the Homeland Security Committee. She has since won a seat on that panel.
Is it me, or is there open acknowledgment here of the quid-pro-quo expectations resulting from accepting MZM’s money?
This isn’t the first time Harris has been caught groping in the bottom of the money jar, or funneling illegal contributions through a company’s employees. In 1998, the St. Petersburg Times reported on Harris’ violations while she was still a state sentor.
Federal prosecutors say nearly $400,000 of Riscorp contributions to Harris and dozens of other politicians were illegal…Riscorp’s founder, Bill Griffin, was sentenced to five months in federal custody earlier this month in connection with the scheme to reimburse his employees for the illegal contributions…
Harris got $20,292 in illegal contributions from Riscorp during her 1994 state Senate campaign — more than any other legislative candidate…Harris also received $13,000 in legal corporate contributions from various Riscorp companies, more than any other candidate in any race, federal records show.
Federal prosecutors described her 1994 campaign manager as one of the “co-conspirators” or “co-schemers” in an effort to hide the true identity of campaign contributors on campaign finance reports.
And a 1994 memo shows that Riscorp advised the campaign manager on how to change the addresses on Riscorp checks to keep the media from tracing them back to Riscorp.
Harris said she thought her campaign wanted different addresses for Riscorp checks because they preferred street addresses rather than post office boxes.
Harris might be forgiven for her current troubles, if she hadn’t already been down this road, and if she wasn’t an expert on campaign finance laws, and if she could come up with an alternate explanation for her actions besides, “I am a nasty Republican skeezer and I will do anything I can get away with. Now, beat it and let me get back to figuring out who to shake down next.”