Stacey Abrams. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Abrams turns over thousands of documents in ethics probe but withholds some

Stacey Abrams’ campaign handed state investigators roughly 3,600 pages of bank records on Friday in response to a wide-ranging subpoena sought by the new head of Georgia’s ethics commission.

But the Democrat’s campaign said it would not turn over emails involving the New Georgia Project voter registration group and state Sen. Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, because the “overbroad” request is not relevant to the investigation and beyond the commission’s authority. 

The documents were submitted days after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that ethics chief David Emadi sent a spate of subpoenas to left-leaning groups in search of campaign violations involving last year’s race for governor. 

Abrams’ allies have assailed Emadi for a “fishing expedition” they say is designed to damage a top rival to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. Emadi told the AJC his investigation is impartial and that his office will audit all gubernatorial contenders. 

Beyond the financial records, the subpoenas also seek correspondence between the Abrams campaign and a constellation of left-leaning groups that registered and mobilized voters, many with a focus on energizing minorities. 

In a letter sent Friday, Abrams attorney Joyce Gist Lewis said there were no communications between the campaign and eight of the groups targeted in the subpoenas. 

But she said the campaign would not turn over nine emails to and from the New Georgia Project, which Abrams helped start, and 10 others to and from Williams, who was vice chairwoman of the state party last year and a founder of another group targeted by the probe.

“It should be obvious that there are multiple circumstances that would potentially give rise to communications between Ms. Williams and the gubernatorial campaign of the (Democratic) nominee, unrelated to campaign finance matters,” Lewis wrote. 

“The commission is not entitled to ‘all’ of those communications absent an explanation as to why ‘all’ of them would be relevant to its investigation,” she added. 

‘Nothing to hide’

Emadi would not discuss specifics of the case, but he revealed in a letter that he intends to present evidence that the Abrams campaign accepted donations from four of the groups that exceeded maximum contribution limits for a statewide campaign.

The four groups Emadi singled out are Care in Action, a nonprofit Williams co-founded that advocates for domestic workers; Higher Heights for Georgia, a New York-funded organization geared toward electing black women; PowerPAC Georgia, an “independent group” that spent more than $5.6 million promoting Abrams and attacking Kemp, mostly funded by liberal San Francisco-based philanthropist Susan Sandler; and Gente4Abrams, a Latino advocacy group.

Lewis said the Democrat has “nothing to hide” and questioned in a response to Emadi why investigators only demanded records from groups “led by black or Latinx Georgians working to increase election participation among voters of color.” 

That concern was echoed by Andrea Young of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, who said politicians are “engaged in a disturbing pattern of bullying” groups focused on empowering minorities. 

“We should ask these politicians why they seem to be targeting only organizations led by people of color,” Young said, “and whether they also intend to investigate any alleged technical violations by other organizations.” 

Emadi, a former Douglas County prosecutor, has said the investigations are part of an effort to be more proactive in reviewing reports after his predecessor was accused of stalling probes.

That’s led to accusations that Emadi is playing politics by pursuing Abrams and not Republicans, including beleaguered Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck, who is facing federal fraud charges. 

The AJC reported when he was appointed that Emadi is a former officer in the Douglas County Republican Party who once worked briefly for GOP House Speaker David Ralston. He also donated $600 last year to Kemp’s campaign for governor.

Emadi has dismissed accusations that he was pursuing a political vendetta, insisting his probe is being conducted in a “fair and impartial manner.” 

And he said in a statement this week that all candidates from the 2018 campaign for governor will be investigated for potential violations “without any concern or benefit regarding partisan affiliation.”

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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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