Georgia 2018: Kemp takes aim at Abrams’ finances

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, center, leaving a press conference last month. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, center, leaving a press conference last month. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

‘If that’s not criminal, it should be.’

A day after Stacey Abrams' allies called for Republican Brian Kemp to resign from office, the secretary of state questioned whether his Democratic opponent violated the law by loaning to her campaign for governor even as she carries a federal tax debt.

“Stacey Abrams made over $1 million in the last few years,” Kemp said. “Instead of paying more than $50,000 in back taxes, she gave $50,000 to her campaign. If that’s not criminal, it should be.”

Abrams did not violate any law, and she dismissed the notion that she could have crossed ethical boundaries.

Kemp was referring to Abrams' disclosure that she owed $54,000 in taxes to the Internal Revenue Service even as she loaned her campaign for governor $50,000. His campaign rhetoric echoes an attack ad released Tuesday from the Republican Governors Association criticizing her as "fiscally irresponsible".

Abrams has said she deferred the tax payments in 2015 and 2016 to help pay her family's medical expenses and that she's on a payment plan to settle the debt. And she's tried to bank on her financial problems to connect with voters who face the same struggles.

At a press conference Wednesday, she said she’s lived up to her obligations and described the focus on her tax debt as a distraction.

“I’ve never failed to file my taxes. I’ve never failed to pay my taxes. I’m on a payment plan to fully fund my taxes. And I’ll tell him and I’ll tell anyone else: I could not defer my family’s needs. I could defer paying my taxes – and I’m paying them.”

Her spokeswoman, Priyanka Mantha, went a step further: “Given that Kemp is a multimillionaire who has been caught cheating farmers, he should probably be more careful about criticizing anyone else.”

It was a reference to his investment in a struggling Kentucky seed-crushing plant that has left some farmers seeking legal damages. Kemp has said he played no direct role in the project. 

The race between the two bitter rivals has escalated this week, with state Democratic leaders calling on Kemp to follow the lead of some of his predecessors and resign while he's seeking Georgia's top office. He has dismissed the idea as "outrageous."

More recent AJC coverage of the Georgia governor’s race:

ExploreThe Jolt: On gun legislation and the definition of ‘radical’
ExploreKemp rejects Democratic calls to quit as Georgia’s top voting official 
ExploreTaking fire: Abrams slammed with attack ads on guns, taxes 
ExploreAbrams opts, for now, to turn other cheek in Georgia governor’s race 

Stacey Abrams on 'dream kids,' HOPE -- and Stone Mountain 

ExploreWhy Georgia governor's race could look a lot like 2020
ExploreTrumped: How Casey Cagle collapsed in Georgia GOP gov race

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