Harris Quietly Formed PAC in ’04

Posted June 21, 2005 at 6:36pm

In a little-noticed move for such a high-profile Member, Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) quietly formed a political action committee last year to boost GOP efforts to pick up Congressional seats, especially in Texas.

Federal Election Commission records show that Forward PAC, which lists a Tampa address and has the same fundraiser and treasurer as Harris’ campaign committee, was funded by the Congresswoman’s parents and a small number of her campaign contributors.

Formed in February 2004, when Harris was still a freshman, the PAC raised a total of $27,250 and gave $1,000 each to the four Texas Republicans who eventually unseated Democratic incumbents last November in the wake of a mid-decade redistricting effort engineered by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

It also gave $1,000 to Rep. Tom Cole’s (R-Okla.) re-election campaign and a total of $12,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

In an interview Tuesday, Harris said she launched the PAC with broader plans in mind — helping to elect and re-elect fellow Republicans — but she soon realized the committee wasn’t the most effective vehicle available to her.

“It gave me the opportunity to help vulnerable candidates as well as candidates who were going to run,” Harris said. “But I found after I opened it that I could be far more helpful when I went to Members’ districts to help them, or candidates. I did over 40 fundraisers for Members of Congress or potential Congressional Members. So that’s really where most of my effort was focused.”

Some of the fundraisers that Harris headlined raked in more than $100,000.

The majority of Forward PAC’s contributions came from two Florida couples, who provided $20,000 of the $27,250 total the PAC raised.

The Congresswoman’s parents, George and Harriett Harris, each gave $5,000 to Forward PAC in early April 2004, while Phil and Diane Wasserman gave $5,000 each on July 23, 2004. The Wassermans’ only other political donation last cycle was $8,000 ($4,000 each) to Harris’ re-election campaign.

George Harris is CEO of Citrus and Chemical Bank in Polk County, Fla. According to Political Money Line, he gave more than $27,000 to Republican candidates and causes over the course of the 2004 cycle — including donations to his daughter’s campaign, the NRCC, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee.

FEC records show that three of the other four contributors to Forward PAC also gave the maximum individual contribution to Harris’ Congressional campaign last cycle.

The committee first registered with the FEC on Feb. 13, 2004, with Nancy Watkins listed as the PAC’s treasurer. Watkins also serves as treasurer of Friends of Katherine Harris, the Congresswoman’s re-election campaign fund.

Forward PAC also paid Emily Stewart a total of $6,000 as a fundraising consultant. Stewart is also listed on the payroll of Harris’ campaign committee.

Once reserved for senior Members of the House and Senate, so-called “leadership” PACs are increasingly being used by more junior lawmakers to cultivate loyalty from future colleagues and to boost their own political and legislative aspirations.

While it is still fairly unusual for a freshman Member to form such a PAC, the Sarasota Congresswoman was no ordinary first-term lawmaker.

Harris, who gained notoriety while serving as Florida secretary of state during the 2000 presidential recount, has been a prolific fundraiser since being elected to Congress in 2002.

She raised upwards of $3 million for her past two campaigns in addition to the money she helped raise for other candidates and Members.

Although Harris will spend much of the next year raising money for her own Senate bid — she announced earlier this month that she will challenge Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) in 2006 — the Congresswoman said that Forward PAC will remain active in the future. The PAC showed a balance of about $4,200 at the end of 2004.

“Sometimes people call and say, ‘If we want to help anybody else is there something we can do to help others?’ That’s great. Forward PAC is a vehicle for that,” she said.

“To the extent that I can continue to help other Members of Congress I always want to do that.”