Stacey Abrams. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Abrams settles IRS debt as she preps for another run for office 

Stacey Abrams has repaid the tax debt she owed to the Internal Revenue Service, closing off a potential weakness as she considers a run for the White House or a rematch against Gov. Brian Kemp. 

The Democrat said through a spokesman Thursday that she retired the roughly $54,000 she owed to the IRS, as well as other credit card and student loan debt she reported during last year’s election run.

“Leader Abrams has been able to resolve her debt,” Abrams spokesman Seth Bringman said, “and she will continue to speak openly about the challenges she faced -- challenges that are all too common for Americans and their families.”

Bringman was responding to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution query about Abrams’ finances, which have improved with the release of a book that reached The New York Times best-selling list and lucrative speaking engagements following her defeat.  

Retiring the debt could choke off one of the most forceful criticisms she faced last year as she prepares for another electoral bid. Abrams ruled out a U.S. Senate bid this month but hasn’t decided yet whether she will run for president or governor. 

Abrams revealed her debt to the IRS, as well as about $170,000 in credit card and student loan debt, in financial documents in March 2018 that showed her net worth was roughly $110,000.

At the time, Abrams said she deferred the tax payments in 2015 and 2016 to help pay her family’s medical expenses and that she was on a payment plan to settle the debts. 

Rather than downplaying the topic on the campaign trail, Abrams took the unusual step of speaking openly about her financial struggles to try to connect with voters

She penned a column embracing the debt that gained national attention, and she invoked it in attacks against her wealthier political rivals. She also repeatedly cited her money problems to show voters that she faces the same troubles they do. 

“Sometimes we stumble and we have to have a leader who understands those struggles,” she said at one meeting. “Because falling down does not mean you have to stay there — and stay silent.”

Her debt became a favorite GOP target once Abrams secured her party’s nomination, as Republicans questioned whether she could effectively manage the state’s $26 billion budget if she struggled to meet her personal financial responsibilities. 

“Stacey Abrams wants to raise your taxes,” one TV attack asserted, “but didn’t pay hers.” 

Shortly after he won the GOP nomination, Kemp highlighted records that showed Abrams, a tax attorney, donated $50,000 of her own money to help launch her campaign while she carried a tax debt. 

“If that’s not criminal,” he said, “it should be.” 

Abrams did not violate any law and dismissed the notion that she crossed ethical boundaries. But she said last year that while delaying past IRS payments to help her parents wasn’t the  “smartest move,” it gave her flexibility to support them. 

On the campaign trail, she often opened up about her financial struggles by recounting her painful discovery at Spelman College that missed credit card payments could turn modest charges into major debts.

And she tried to draw a contrast between her more limited financial means and Kemp and the other millionaires who ran for statewide office in Georgia last year. 

“For the folks that I want to represent, they know these challenges intimately,” she said at one stop. “And they are excited to know that there’s someone running for office who understands their real lives and has real plans to address them.”

About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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