Months after the GOP U.S. Senate candidate pledged to use her millions in the race, she has yet to ante up.
By ANITA KUMAR, Times Staff Writer
Published August 26, 2006
TAMPA - After months of hearing members of even her own party second-guess her run for the U.S. Senate, Katherine Harris said she would pump $10-million of her own money into her financially strapped campaign.
In an emotional announcement on national TV in March, Harris said she would use every penny her late father had left her.
Minutes later, while still in the New York studio where she made the announcement, Harris received a call from her sister. She and their brother were furious that she had not told them she was going to spend family money on her campaign, according to her former senior consultant Ed Rollins, who was with her that night.
In the days that followed, several former staffers, including Rollins, said Harris learned she would not directly receive any inheritance from her father. Instead, his assets, reported to be as much as $100-million, were left to her mother, Harriet.
Harris, a millionaire in her own right, quietly regrouped and changed her plan, telling employees and supporters that she was going to liquidate everything she had to fund the campaign.
"I'm selling everything I have," she said repeatedly. Harris donated $3-million to her campaign, though she later took back $100,000 - a move that fueled speculation that she did not have the $10-million.
Now, five months later, Republican operatives and political watchers say the Harris campaign may have seen the last of her personal resources. They doubt she will put more money into a race almost no one expects her to win.
"She's crazy if she puts in $10-million of her own money," said Brian Ballard, a Republican fundraiser in Tallahassee.
"She might as well put it in the middle of the street and light a match," said Pat Roberts, a Republican lobbyist and longtime Harris friend.
Harris refuses to answer questions about the money, and rarely mentions the pledge in her campaign speeches anymore.
"That's a process question, that's a matter of strategy," she said recently. "I'm not going to tip my hand."
Her latest campaign reports, released Friday, show she has raised $4.8-million, and that she did not give herself anymore money in the latest reporting period. She has about $2.2-million in the bank, while the incumbent, Sen. Bill Nelson, has more than $12-million.
Harris has been failing to come anywhere close to the national party's fundraising goal for her of $2-million a month. But she surprised even longtime advisers and friends when she first suggested putting in her own money.
She had never donated any significant amount to her previous campaigns, in large part because fundraising had always been one of her strengths.
Harris, a member of Congress from the Sarasota area, told a handful of senior aides that she was considering donating between $5-million and $20-million - the amount her staff had estimated she needed to be competitive in a race against Nelson.
They discouraged her from putting in any money because they thought it then would be even harder for her to raise money, and because her opponents would then, by law, be able to collect larger donations.
"I gave her the best counsel I could," Rollins said. "My counsel was she could not possibly win. ... She didn't listen to anyone."
When Harris learned she would not receive money from her father, she told her staff that she would need to sell her properties, including her $1.1-million townhome in Washington, D.C., and the multi-million dollar waterfront land in Sarasota where she planned to build her dream home.
None of the properties have gone on the market.
Chris Ingram, a former Harris staffer who now runs the campaign of her opponent, LeRoy Collins, said he repeatedly asked her how she planned on getting the money and she always responded that she would sell her properties. He said she balked when he told her she should put the homes on the market.
A fourth-generation Floridian, Harris is the granddaughter of Ben Hill Griffin Jr., the late citrus and cattle magnate whose name graces the University of Florida football stadium. Griffin was worth $500-million - a figure eventually split among five children, including Harris' mother - after his death in 1990.
Her father, George W. Harris Jr., who was chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Citrus and Chemical Bank in Polk County, reportedly was worth about $100-million when he died in January.
Harris reports assets between $7.7- and $36.8- million, according to the most recently available federal financial disclosure reports. Much of that can be attributed to assets in her husband's company, InterCon Marketing, worth $5-million to $25-million.
Rollins said Harris told him she could not spend her family's or husband's money on the campaign.
Ken Plante, a former Republican senator who has known Harris for years, said she could put more money in later if she wins the primary next month - as she is expected to over three newcomers. "It's a drop in the bucket for her," he said. "She's got the money."
In total, Harris has given the campaign $3.25-million but she took back $100,000 in July to finish renovating her "historic home in Washington, D.C.," reportedly so she could sell it for the campaign.
Ingram said he and former campaign manager Glenn Hodas first learned that she took back the $100,000 from the campaign's financial staff about five days after it happened. They waited another two weeks before confronting her about the money, knowing that reporters and others would ask them about it when the financial documents became public, he said.
At first Harris did not have an answer for them, Ingram said, but two days later she told them she was renovating her "home theater" to increase the value of her home in order to sell it.
In the meantime, Nelson is using Harris' $10-million pledge to try to raise money for his own campaign.
"I take nothing for granted," said Nelson, the Democratic incumbent, at a luncheon in West Palm Beach this week. "She says she's putting in $10-million of her own money. You know how many negative ads can be bought with $10-million?"
Times researchers Angie Drobnic Holan, Carolyn Edds and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Anita Kumar can be reached at email@example.com or 202-463-0576.