Common Cause asks Justice Department to investigate Rep. Katherine Harris

Common Cause on Monday asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) attempted to obtain a $10 million government appropriations earmark for a Navy counterintelligence program in exchange for a defense contractor’s offer of financial support, a violation of criminal law.

According to information provided by the defense contractor, Mitchell Wade, chief executive of MZM, Inc., to the Justice Department as part of a plea agreement for his role in the bribery investigation into former Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, Wade dined with Harris in early 2005 at a Washington restaurant:

“At this dinner, Wade and Representative B discussed, among other topics, the possibility of MZM’s hosting a fundraiser for Representative B later in the year, and the possibility of obtaining funding and approval for a Navy counterintelligence program in Representative B’s district and locating an MZM office in that district,” said Wade’s statement to the Justice Department.

Rep. Harris has been identified publicly as “Representative B.”

On April 26, after the dinner with Wade, Rep. Harris sent a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Defense requesting funding for a project called, “U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service Airbourne Capability to Support Counter Intelligence and Combating Terrorism Missions.” The project was an addendum to the package of funding requests Harris had already submitted. According to a press release from Rep. Harris’ office, it was a $10 million request.

The description of the conversation between Wade and Rep. Harris in Wade’s statement to the Justice Department, and the subsequent official action taken by Rep. Harris, suggests that Rep. Harris violated U.S. Code 18‘201, which states:

(b) Whoever – (2) being a public official or person selected to be a public official, directly or indirectly, corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for: (A) being influenced in the performance of any official act; shall be fined under this title or not more than three times the monetary equivalent of the thing of value, whichever is greater, or imprisoned for not more than fifteen years, or both, and may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

“It appears that Representative Harris crossed the line from the usual back scratching that goes on between lobbyists and Members of Congress, to agreeing to a quid pro quo from Wade – a fundraiser in exchange for his $10 million earmark,” said Common Cause President Chellie Pingree. “We would like the Justice Department to investigate.”

The dinner where Wade and Rep. Harris discussed the earmark and the fundraiser itself appears to be a violation of the gift rules in the House of Representatives. According to House gift rules, members cannot accept gifts worth $50 or more. Rep. Harris has confirmed publicly that the cost of the dinner was $2,800 for two people. However, there is little reason to believe that the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct will act on any of the evidence that has been reported publicly. The Justice Department has become the de facto enforcement body for Congress.

Click here to read the complaint to the Justice Department: