For Katherine Harris, one very costly dinner

The GOP candidate for Senate can't explain away her ties to a defense contractor who has pleaded guilty to bribery.


Tim Grieve
April 21, 2006 5:46PM (UTC)

When a new poll this week showed her 29 points behind in her race for the U.S. Senate, Florida Rep. Katherine Harris tried to write it off as the sort of problem facing members of her party everywhere. "It's a tough environment for Republicans now," Harris said. "I'm confident that we'll continue to only go up."

There's no doubt that Republicans all over are worried. As the editors of the National Review wrote earlier this week, the GOP is facing something between a "setback" and a "rout" in November. But as Josh Marshall notes this morning, Harris has problems that are uniquely her own. We're not talking eye shadow here -- although that continues to be an issue for Harris, apparently -- but rather the candidate's inability to extract herself from questions about her involvement with a defense contractor who has pleaded guilty to bribing then Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham and making $32,000 in illegal contributions to Harris' campaign.

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The defense contractor, Mitchell Wade, took Harris out for a $2,800 dinner at Washington's Citronelle restaurant last year -- at the same time he was seeking her help in obtaining $10 million in federal funding for one of his projects, the Orlando Sentinel reports. A spokeswoman for Harris denied earlier this year that Wade had paid for the dinner, but Harris fessed up in an interview with the Sentinel this week. Sort of.

Harris told the Sentinel's reporter that it was "news" to her that the dinner was so expensive, then said that her campaign had "reimbursed" the restaurant for the cost. The reporter, apparently as puzzled as we are, asked why Harris would reimburse the restaurant, which had already been paid for the meal by Wade. Harris' response: The Sentinel says she "abruptly ended the interview and walked off." An hour later, the paper says, a spokesman for Harris called the reporter and asked him not to write anything about what Harris had said about the dinner.

The next day, the Sentinel reports, Harris' campaign issued a statement admitting that Harris hadn't actually reimbursed anyone yet. But to put an end to any questions about her dinner with Wade, Harris said, she would be donating $100 to a local charity, "which will more than adequately compensate for the cost of my beverage and appetizer."

We're not sure how giving $100 to an outfit called Global Dominion Impact Ministries absolves Harris of the conflict of interest inherent in sharing a $2,800 dinner with a defense contractor seeking federal funding. But then, conflicts of interest aren't anything new for this candidate: She's the one, after all, who presided over the Florida recount in 2000 after serving as the cochairwoman of George W. Bush's Florida campaign.


Tim Grieve

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

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