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Harris: Letting contractor buy $2,800 dinner was 'oversight'

By ANITA KUMAR and ADAM C. SMITH
Published April 22, 2006


Senate candidate Katherine Harris said Friday she regrets allowing a defense contractor to pay their $2,800 tab at an upscale Washington restaurant last year.

"I take full responsibility for this oversight," Harris said in a statement. "While the rules are complicated, as a member of Congress, it is my responsibility to know and obey them."

Harris, a Republican congresswoman from Longboat Key, said the meal at Citronelle in Georgetown was so pricey because contractor Mitchell Wade bought several expensive bottles of wine "which he took home with him uncorked." Citronelle maitre d' Jean-Jacques Retourne, however, said that would have violated the restaurant's liquor license. "You cannot take a bottle out."

Harris' ties to Wade's company, MZM, have been troubling her already rocky campaign to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson since Wade pleaded guilty in February to bribing former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, R-Calif.

Wade also admitted he illegally contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Harris in 2004. Prosecutors say $32,000 of the $50,000 she received was given to her through employees who were reimbursed by Wade, making it illegal.

Court records say Wade took Harris, described as Rep. B, to dinner early last year to discuss a possible Harris fundraiser and MZM's hope for an intelligence facility in Sarasota.

Dinner at Citronelle costs $85 to $150 a person and includes items such as English pea bisque, truffle and foie gras salad, lobster medallions, duck and venison. The restaurant has two cellars with more than 750 wines.

Following the dinner, Harris requested $10-million in federal dollars for MZM, but the facility was never funded.

Ed Rollins, Harris' former chief political strategist in her Senate campaign, told the Orlando Sentinel he found out that the meal cost $2,800, although he said he didn't see a bill and wasn't at the restaurant.

House members are forbidden from accepting gifts worth $50 or more and should not accept "favors or benefits in circumstances that might create the appearance of influencing the performance of official duties," according to the House's Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

Harris said in her statement that she thought her campaign would reimburse her share of the meal but later discovered that was not done. The campaign then decided the money should not be reimbursed to Wade while he was under investigation.

Harris said Friday she donated $100 to charity, "which will more than adequately compensate for the cost of my beverage and appetizers."

Harris told the Sentinel she donated the money to Global Dominion Ministries in Jacksonville. Its Web site says Bishop Lewis and Pastor Sandra Jones "proclaim to the church that a new wave of God's spirit is coming in the realms of miracles, healings and deliverances. They boldly proclaim that the coming end-time revival will eclipse any revival yet seen in the church history."

Times staff writer Bill Adair contributed to this report, which also used information from the Associated Press. Anita Kumar can be reached at akumar@sptimes.com or 202 463-0576.

[Last modified April 22, 2006, 01:38:14]


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