How a fundraiser featuring Jason Carter erupted into a campaign fight

As the final hours of the legislative session ticked toward a close, the start of a campaign fight in the governor's race erupted far from the statehouse. Soon, there were accusations of betrayal and claims of cronyism. One GOP official even alleged "criminal behavior."

The source of this rhetoric was a fundraiser set for Sunday in New York featuring Democrat Jason Carter, his party's nominee for the state's top job, and his famous grandfather, Jimmy Carter. But it was the timing of the event, and not the former president's appearance, that prompted the outburst.

Georgia campaign law prevents lawmakers and statewide officeholders, like Carter and Gov. Nathan Deal, from accepting contributions or pledges for campaign cash while the Legislature is in session. Deal's campaign and its allies contend that the fundraiser violated the law by sending out invitations seeking pledges of at least $1,000 before the session gaveled to a close.

"By working on the clock to line up contributions for his gubernatorial campaign, Carter has betrayed the public trust and violated state law," said Ryan Mahoney, the spokesman for the Georgia GOP. "Carter's constituents should be outraged by his self-serving, hypocritical, criminal behavior." Conservative pundit Erick Erickson at RedState had equally harsh words.

Carter's campaign responded that the invites were legal because the fundraiser, hosted by REM front-man Michael Stipe and other Democratic heavyweights, went to benefit the Democratic Party of Georgia and not Carter's campaign. Carter spokeswoman Meg Robinson said the event, scheduled for Sunday, would still move forward as scheduled.

"This is nothing more than a desperate attempt by the GOP to distract voters from Nathan Deal's complete lack of leadership and utter failure to address issues that are important to Georgia families during a wasted legislative session," she said.

Incidentally, the Georgia GOP also sent word of a party fundraiser on Thursday, during the waning hours of the session, that noted Deal's appearance. But Deal's camp said the difference was that the GOP event wasn't arranged by Deal or his aides, while the invitation for Carter's event indicated it was authorized by his campaign.

State ethics officials didn't immediately return requests for comment.

Campaign finance laws are rarely cut-and-dry, and this one is complicated by politics. Carter has said he will restore trust in government, a subtle nod to allegations by ethics staffers that Deal's office improperly interfered with an investigation. Mahoney, for one, claimed "the poster boy of the Georgia Democratic Party has an ethics problem."

Carter's camp had a ready retort: "It's not surprising that the cronies of a governor facing multiple ethics investigations don't understand the law."