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District attorney candidate Kamala Harris is facing a sticky dilemma: Put the brakes on campaign spending in the last weeks before the Nov. 4 election or break a pledge to abide by a voluntary spending cap. The first choice could make it more difficult for Harris, a first-time candidate running against an incumbent and a third-time challenger, to get her message out in the last weeks before the election. But if her campaign is the first in the San Francisco DA’s race to spend more than $211,000, she could face a fine of up to $5,000 and potentially even criminal prosecution, under the city’s ethics law. More importantly, she would be handing her opponents a potent weapon, given that she has preached zero tolerance for criminal and ethical misconduct by prosecutors. Both Harris and District Attorney Terence Hallinan agreed to adopt voluntary spending ceilings earlier this year, while opponent Bill Fazio opted not to, according to documents filed with the city’s Ethics Commission and Department of Elections. The voluntary limits cap spending at $211,000 per candidate for the general election in November and $121,000 for a run-off, if there is one. Campaign finance documents submitted as of June 30, plus data on mass-mailer spending since then, indicate Harris is closing in on the $211,000 cap the fastest. She has reported spending about $176,500, while Hallinan has reported $44,500 and Fazio has reported $52,000. The candidates must report by Sept. 25 what they spent between July 1 and Sept. 20. If any of the candidates exceed the spending caps, the limits are lifted for their opponents, said Mabel Ng, deputy executive director of the San Francisco Ethics Commission. But because they signed the pledge, either Harris or Hallinan could face a variety of penalties if they are the first to exceed the limit, Ng said. If convicted of a misdemeanor, the candidate could face up to six months in county jail and termination of his or her candidacy, Ng said. The Harris campaign is keeping its plans for dealing with the issue close to the vest. Harris said she doesn’t know if her campaign is planning to exceed the spending limit and referred the question to her campaign strategist, Jim Stearns. “We’re going to make all of our spending information public when we’re required to do so, Sept. 25,” Stearns said. “Just like everybody else.” Harris told supporters at a fund raiser earlier this week that the campaign needs to keep raising money, and she mentioned that she would like to do a TV ad that would cost $250,000. She has since said she doesn’t think she can actually raise enough money for a TV spot. “That’s in terms of something ideal,” she said Wednesday. “The TV is something very tangible for donors,” Stearns said, but there are “no firm plans” to do an ad at this point.

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