Harris gifts tied to controversial fundraiser

She got 10 $2,000 checks from donors connected to a man known as "the Brooklyn Bundler."

Published January 27, 2005

U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, Florida's most famous member of Congress and a potential candidate for Senate, received early Christmas presents late last year from some controversial benefactors.

While raising money in New York on Dec. 12, she received 10 $2,000 checks from people related to or connected to a New York rabbi and campaign fundraiser dubbed "the Brooklyn Bundler" who was indicted on charges of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal money intended for disabled children.

The donors came mostly from Brooklyn, N.Y., but also from executives of an Iowa slaughterhouse that was at the time facing allegations of inhumane treatment of animals.

PoliticalMoneyLine, a nonpartisan campaign finance information service, on Wednesday noted the bundled contributions to Harris and how they follow the fundraising practice used for years by Rabbi Milton Balkany. His ability to deliver campaign checks to politicians years ago earned him the nickname the Brooklyn Bundler.

Balkany also has emerged as a controversial political player. Last year federal prosecutors opted to defer prosecution of Balkany for allegedly misappropriating $700,000 in federal grant money, after he agreed to pay back the money and accepted travel restrictions. The politically connected rabbi and private school leader also was implicated, but not charged, in a case involving bribery of federal prison officials to improve the living conditions of certain prisoners, according to the New York Daily News.

A spokesman for Harris, Garrison Courtney, said the Sarasota Republican was unfamiliar with any controversies involving the Dec. 12 donors and that she would consider "the proper course of action once she determines all the necessary facts."

He said Harris had no prior relationship with Balkany and was unsure whether she had met with him in New York.

Balkany did not contribute to Harris' campaign, but his son Menachim and other relatives provided checks on Dec. 12. They include executives related by marriage to Balkany who lead the country's biggest kosher slaughterhouse, Agriprocessors in Iowa.

That company had been under criticism since an animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, last month released a secretly recorded videotape that showed a steer staggering with its throat slit and its trachea and esophagus dangling out. Soon after that tape's release, the U.S. Department of Agriculture told its inspectors they could shut down a slaughterhouse if they witness a scene like that.

Most of the Brooklyn and Iowa donors to Harris did not return phone calls, though Boruch Greenberg of Brooklyn said he viewed Harris as a strong supporter of Israel and an emerging Republican leader. He declined to say who encouraged him to contribute $4,000.

"She has further political ambitions I believe, so I think it will pay off," Greenberg said of Harris, who sits on the House Committee on International Relations.

The former secretary of state during Florida's 2000 presidential recount is a top Republican fundraiser who spent $3.4-million winning re-election to her Republican-dominated congressional district.

She is widely seen as a likely challenger to Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2006 and is wasting little time building her campaign accounts. A fundraising letter sent last week invited people to contribute and receive a card designating them members of her "2005 campaign team."

"Your strong continued support will help me get ready for my next political challenges," the letter says, without indicating her plans. "Not much is guaranteed in politics but you can bet that I will continue to be a target of the liberals!"

Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727893-8241 or adam@sptimes.com