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Harris letter thanked contractor for dinner

The congresswoman has since conceded that letting him pay the tab broke a House rule.

By ANITA KUMAR
Published July 8, 2006


U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris capped off her pricey and famous dinner with defense contractor Mitchell Wade with a personal letter thanking the man, since convicted of bribery, for the dinner and conversation

Harris, a Longboat Key Republican running for U.S. Senate, attached a personal note on the thank-you letter typed on her congressional campaign stationery in March 2004.

"What a special evening!" Harris wrote in a the letter obtained by the St. Petersburg Times. "The best dinner I have ever enjoyed in Washington. I especially enjoyed getting to know you better! Please let me know if I can ever be of assistance."

For at least one meal, priced at $2,800, Harris has said she ate only appetizers, not dinner, and that the tab was so high because Wade took home uncorked bottles of wine. The restaurant said that would have violated its liquor license.

After the two dinners with Wade at the tony Georgetown restaurant, Citronelle, Harris requested $10-million in federal money for a Sarasota intelligence facility for Wade's company, MZM. The facility was never funded.

After campaign stops in Polk County on Friday, Harris said in an interview that she does not recall the letter to Wade but doesn't dispute it.

"I'm sure I wrote a letter," Harris said. "I always try to write nice letters."

Harris' ties to MZM have been troubling her rocky campaign to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson ever 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.

The 2004 letter thanks Wade for his support and for encouraging others to contribute to her re-election campaign.

"I very much appreciate the dinner and conversation at Citronella ... " she wrote. "Your generosity is touching and very much appreciated! I shall always remain grateful."

Harris has since acknowledged that despite House rules allowing no gifts to members of more than $50, Wade picked up the tabs for the dinner. She said she recently donated money to cover her share of the tab. She donated $100 to a Jacksonville church for one dinner but refuses to reveal how much or to whom the second donation was made.

Harris faces three candidates in the Sept. 5 primary. The winner will face Nelson in November.