Saturday, March 04, 2006

Harris Requested Funds At Behest of Contractor
Harris Requested Funds At Behest of Contractor
By Charles R. Babcock
Washington Post Staff Writer

Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) has acknowledged that she requested last year that $10 million in federal funds be set aside for a Navy intelligence program in her district at the request of Washington contractor Mitchell J. Wade, who pleaded guilty last week to bribing another House member.

Harris, who gained notoriety as secretary of state in Florida during the contested Bush-Gore presidential race in 2000, is running for the Senate this year. News media in her home state have been focusing on her dealings with Wade since prosecutors disclosed last week that she was the unwitting recipient of $32,000 in illegal campaign donations from Wade in 2004.

In a statement Thursday, Harris said: "I never requested funding for this project in exchange for any contributions, but rather to bring more high-skill, high-wage jobs to the region."

In court filings as part of Wade's plea for bribing convicted former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.), prosecutors said Wade had had dinner with Harris early last year and discussed another fundraising event and possible funding for an unnamed Navy counterintelligence program. The court filing said the project was not funded but did not address whether Harris sought funding. She did not respond to questions about such a request last week.

On Thursday, she released copies of letters she sent to appropriations subcommittee chairmen in 2004 and 2005 requesting funding for more than 80 specific projects. She said she was doing so to bring transparency to the appropriations process, and that she supports identifying the individuals and organizations making the requests.

Last year, she first requested five defense projects totaling $15.8 million. A month later, she wrote another letter to Reps. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) and John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), the senior members of the panel, adding the Wade project. It was for Naval Criminal Investigative Service airborne capability, which she placed third on her list of funding priorities. She said it was "to support counterintelligence and combating terrorism missions."

Harris said she has not been contacted by any officials regarding the incident.