Democrat Stacey Evans is trying to open a new front in the race for Georgia governor by assailing her rival over a banking measure that was overwhelmingly approved last year.
The flashpoint involves House Bill 192, which made it harder for plaintiffs to win lawsuits targeting the board members of financial institutions. The measure sailed through the Legislature with GOP support and the backing of her opponent, Stacey Abrams, and some Democrats.
Evans opposed the measure and delivered the minority report urging other Democrats to join her, saying the measure went too far in shielding bank and corporate executives from liability for wrongdoing.
Video footage from the floor of the House shows Abrams walking over to talk with Evans at her seat in the chamber shortly after she criticized the measure.
“After I finished speaking against the bill, Ms. Abrams came over to me and asked me if the bill was really that bad because she had ‘gotten a lot of calls’ to support the bill,” said Evans. “I told her the bill was bad. She decided to vote for the bill anyways.”
Abrams and other supporters of the measure characterized it as a crucial to protecting executives who make decisions in good faith while holding bad corporate actors accountable. And her campaign said Evans mischaracterized the conversation and that Abrams never received calls or emails about the bill.
In a statement, Abrams spokeswoman Priyanka Mantha criticized Evans for co-sponsoring a measure that would overhaul the state's debt settlement model opposed by a consumer advocacy group.
"Stacey Evans' habitual, outright lies are desperate attempts to cover up her record of hurting consumers by empowering what Georgia Watch called 'abusive debt settlement practices' that prey on struggling Georgia families," said Mantha.
Evans spokesman Seth Clark fired back, saying that Abrams voted for legislation that makes it harder to hold leaders of banks accountable for wrongdoing, even as Stacey Evans was leading the fight against the bill.”
He added: “Now, Ms. Abrams’ campaign is resorting to name-calling to deflect from this awful vote, even as the General Assembly's records make clear what she did.”
The candidates have clashed over a range of issues in the runup to the May 22 primary including gun control votes, tax cut plans and competing strategies to win in November. The rift over financial votes has only recently surfaced.
The banking measure, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Beth Beskin, was backed by the Georgia Bankers Association and championed by a new business-backed organization called Georgians for Lawsuit Reform that emerged last year to press for changes to the state's litigation rules.
It was seen as an answer to a 2014 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that could allow members of a failed bank's board of directors and other officers to be held personally liable for the bank's losses if they were found to be negligent in their fiduciary responsibilities.
It was fiercely opposed at the time by the trial bar, and the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association branded it an attempt to "lower the accountability of corporate directors and officers" in Georgia in the wake of a spate of bank failures triggered by the Great Recession.