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Harris received illegal funding in earlier case

A revelation last week that illegal campaign contributions had been made to Rep. Katherine Harris was not a first.

In 1998, executives at Riscorp insurance company pleaded guilty to doling out $380,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Florida elections candidates.

One was Harris, R-Sarasota, who received more than $20,000 from Riscorp in a 1994 campaign for state Senate that she won.

A 1994 memo shows Harris' campaign manager changed addresses on Riscorp checks to keep them from being traced back to Riscorp. At the time, Harris said she thought the addresses were sought by her campaign staff members because they preferred street addresses to post office boxes.

On Friday, Mitchell Wade, a defense contractor who admitted paying a California representative more than $1-million in bribes, said he also made illegal contributions to Harris and to Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., in hopes of benefiting MZM Inc. of Washington.

Wade made the statement while pleading guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiring with then-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California to bribe the Republican lawmaker and to help him evade millions of dollars in tax liability.

Harris and Goode did not appear to be aware that the contributions from Wade were improper, prosecutors said. The lawmakers said they would donate the contributions to charity.

Harris spokeswoman Kara Borie declined to say if the handling of future campaign contributions could be affected.

Harris, running to unseat Sen. Bill Nelson, received about $42,000 from MZM, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money. About $32,000 of that was in the names of MZM employees and their spouses.

In a statement Friday, Harris said when questions arose about MZM officials coercing employees into the contributions, her staff sought to contact workers and offer refunds.

Chad Clanton, Sen. Nelson's campaign manager, said the latest developments are being followed.

"I think the facts of the case speak for themselves," he said. "There's a long way to go before the election, but ethics and integrity would be something that voters look at."

Information from Times files was used in this report. Marlon A. Walker can be reached at (727) 893-8737.