Couldn't happen to a nicer person

Florida Rep. Katherine Harris, already down in a race for the U.S. Senate, received illegal campaign contributions from an admitted felon.

Published February 27, 2006 5:15PM (EST)

As we noted Friday, defense contractor Mitchell Wade has pleaded guilty not just to bribing former Republican Rep. Duke Cunningham but also to trying to influence two other members of Congress through illegal campaign contributions. The two representatives weren't identified in court papers filed last week, but it didn't take long for reporters to figure out who's who: The first is Republican Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia, and the second is Republican Rep. Katherine Harris of Florida.

That would be former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, of course, the woman who served as co-chairwoman of George W. Bush's campaign in Florida before doing everything she could to make sure he prevailed in the disputed election there in 2000. But long before any of us had heard of "butterfly ballots" or "hanging chads," Harris was known for something else: accepting illegal campaign contributions. As a candidate for the state Senate in 1994, Harris received more than $20,000 in illegal campaign contributions from an insurance company she subsequently helped by introducing legislation that would have hurt one of its competitors. Harris said back then that she had no idea that the contributions she was getting were illegal, and her office seems to be making a similar suggestion this time around.

University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato tells the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that it's hard to make that argument a second time around. "Even Republicans would say she had her warning and apparently didn't learn anything from it," Sabato says. "It's one thing to be fooled once, but to be fooled twice says more about you than the foolers."

For now, at least, it seems that Florida voters won't be fooled again. Even before the latest news about Harris came to light, a Quinnipiac University poll put her 22 points behind in her bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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