Politics

Kamala Harris Has a History of Campaign Spending Problems

Fined $34K in 2003 for spending nearly $100K above limit

Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris / AP

The campaign of Kamala Harris, the attorney general of California running for the Senate as a Democratic, has come under scrutiny in recent weeks for the rate at which it has spent funds, including on high-end accommodations—an issue that has troubled Harris in the past.

Harris, who is vying for the seat currently occupied by Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is not running for reelection, announced her candidacy in January. She has since raised $5.9 million, $2.6 million—or 44 percent—of which she has already spent. During the fourth quarter, Harris has pulled in $1.7 million while spending $1.4 million.

National Journal recently reported that the Harris campaign has spent thousands on luxury hotels and pricey airfare using campaign funds, actions that have irked some Democrats who want to see scaled-back expenditures from the campaign.

"There are Hampton Inns in every city. There are Holiday Inns in every city," a Democratic strategist with knowledge of the campaign told National Journal. "You don’t have to stay in the Four Seasons, or Hotel Fusion, or the Waldorf. It’s unnecessary."

The strategist was alluding to money spent by the campaign that included $1,886 to post the candidate up in the high-end St. Regis hotel in Washington, D.C., in March. A few months later, in June, the campaign spent $1,500 on a one-night stay in Houston’s Houstonian Hotel. Harris returned to the St. Regis in July for another one-night stay, this time for $1,600. The trend of luxurious hotel accommodations continued into various other cities including Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles, totaling $18,000 in a matter of months.

This is not the first time that Harris has come under fire for campaign spending habits.

While running for district attorney in 2003, Harris was found by the San Francisco Ethics Commission to have violated the city’s campaign finance law, blowing past the voluntary spending cap of $211,000 after promising to honor it.

Harris, whose campaign exceeded the limit by $91,446, was hit with $34,000 in penalties and corrective measures. Some criticized the ethics commission for levying a small penalty on Harris.

One day after Harris violated the spending cap, the ethics commission lifted the limit.

"That’s absolutely outrageous," Peter Bagatelos, at attorney, told the San Francisco Bay Guardian after the incident. "That pledge clearly states it cannot be withdrawn. It is irrevocable and binding … It is not fair that she gets to come back at such a late date and change her decision for her own personal benefit."

The sitting district attorney at the time, Terence Hallinan, said that the commission had acted without authority and requested that their actions be overturned. However, Judge Ronald Quidachay—the same judge who limited the amount Harris could be fined for violating the campaign finance pledge—denied the request.

Just two months after the violation was issued Jim Lazarus, the member appointed to the ethics commission by Mayor Willie Brown, wrote a letter to the editor asking voters to back Harris in her bid for district attorney.

Mayor Brown was a onetime boyfriend of Harris and was considered the "political sponsor" of Harris.

Harris’ campaign did not return a request for comment by press time.