Connecting the Harris / MZM dots

June 30, 2005

Thanks to Josh Marshall, BlogWood readers are up on the developing Katherine Harris / Duke Cunningham / MZM scandal. In a nutshell, Cunningham is under investigation for some shady real estate deals with MZM executives. Harris received $50,000 from MZM related entities during the 2004 election cycle.

Now, no one has accused Harris of any wrong doing yet, but there are several intriguing nuggets that have come out so far.

But first, let’s get warmed up with a little history.

Eleven years ago, employees of the Riscorp insurance company made campaign contributions totaling $20,292 to U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris. It was later discovered the employees were illegally reimbursed for their donations. Five Riscorp executives pleaded guilty to a range of charges and the company’s president served a brief prison sentence. Harris denied any knowledge of the scheme, was never charged with any crime and was cleared of wrongdoing by a state investigator.

The practice of employees collectively donating to a candidate is known as bundling. It is not illegal. But in the Riscorp case, the employees were reimbursed through bonuses and fudged expense accounts. While Harris denied knowledge of the scheme, a letter from her office requested that Riscorp provide separate return addresses for each contribution. Federal prosecutors called her campaign chairman a co-conspirator in the case, but he was never charged with any crimes.

Bundling, eh ?

If you look at this read-out from you’ll see that that $32,000 came in 16 checks for $2000 each. And 14 of those $2,000 checks were written out on one day — March 23rd, 2004, a Tuesday.

The two other were written out on April 1st, 2004 a Thursday by MZM owner Mitchell Wade’s wife: Christiane Wade.

With Cunningham and Goode, Mitchell Wade had some very specific piece of business he wanted help with. What was his angle on Katherine Harris?

Yes, what was the angle on Harris?

At the same time it was financially supporting Cunningham, Harris and Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Virginia, MZM vastly expanded its defense contracting work.

The company went from virtually no major defense contracts before 2002 to an award that generated $163 million over the past three years, according to the Defense Information Systems Agency.

According to reports in the San Diego Union-Tribune, former employees said the company was seeking to increase its contracts with U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, both headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base.

However, public affairs officers at both commands said cursory checks of their contracting databases found no business arrangements with MZM.

MZM has a Tampa office, where a representative referred questions to the Washington headquarters. Calls there weren’t returned.

Cunningham, a colorful former fighter pilot known for emotional speeches and conservative politics, is a member of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Both supervise work of the kind MZM does in its defense contracting.

Harris is a member of the Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations.

`She Was Very Excited’

Goodman said Harris had been aware that MZM was “interested in some economic development projects in the district. As a member of Congress, anyone would be interested in that. She was very excited about that prospect.”

Harris couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

The Union-Tribune, which broke the story about the purchase of Cunningham’s home, reported this week that former MZM employees, asking not to be named, said Wade had pressured them to donate to the company’s political action committee, which in turn donated to the members of Congress.

Remember that as well as holding various committee positions, Harris was George W. Bush’s Florida campaign chief in 2000. Not that that necessarily has anything to do with anything.

Government procurement records show that MZM, which Wade started in 1993, did not report any revenue from prime contract awards until 2003. Most of its revenue has come from the agreement the Pentagon just cut off. But over the past three years it was also awarded several contracts, worth more than $600,000, by the Executive Office of the President. They include a $140,000 deal for office furniture in 2002 and several for unspecified “intelligence services.”

A White House spokeswoman declined to comment.

2 Responses to Connecting the Harris / MZM dots

  1. Ed Deluzain on June 30, 2005 at 10:09 am

    When I told my wife about this, she said she had read that the White House doesn’t want Harris in Bill Nelson’s seat. Instead, they want Allan Bense. I just wrote a post to my blog about this, citing you.

  2. Summer Plumb on July 1, 2005 at 8:48 am

    The father of Katherine Harris is George Harris, President of Citrus and Chemical Bank in Bartow, FL. He is married to the daughter of Ben Hill Griffin, Jr. You’d think a citrus and banking family would be a little smarter about their finances. Of course this family just got done suing each other in court over Daddy’s estate. Refer to the Lakeland Ledger newspaper archive for the blow by blow.



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