GOP candidate for governor Brian Kemp steps out of his campaign bus during a tour of the state last week. RYON HORNE / RHORNE@AJC.COM
Photo: Ryon Horne
Photo: Ryon Horne

The Jolt: On paper, Brian Kemp doesn’t know how brother-in-law makes a living

Under state law, when they file campaign disclosure reports, candidates are supposed to list the names, addresses, occupations and employers of donors as a way of helping the public know who is bankrolling their bids for office.

Campaigns are good about listing the first two, but some are better than others with that last bit. Take Brian Kemp’s Republican campaign for governor, for instance.

Our colleague James Salzer was going through the latest disclosure reports for this piece on how most lobbyists and statehouse PACs that had previously backed Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle switched to Kemp after he won the GOP primary runoff.

Salzer noticed that the Kemp campaign had no information, other than name and address, on an awful lot of donors.

Out of about 5,300 donations over $100, where that information was required, the Kemp campaign wrote “information requested” for 1,670 of them. The implication of that phrase is that the campaign didn’t have the information, but is diligently seeking it.

Here’s the thing: Among those the Kemp campaign apparently had no information on were more than a dozen current and former state lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, who happens to be Kemp’s brother-in-law. Who also has a state-sponsored presence on the internet that actually lists his occupation: Cowsert is an attorney.

Ditto for state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, who has become nationally known for promoting medical marijuana legislation; and state Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, whose feud with Cagle over private school scholarship legislation sparked a secret tape that helped sink the lieutenant governor’s campaign.

The Kemp campaign also lacked occupational information on former U.S. senators, congressmen; current state Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, who is still receiving a state paycheck; former state Public Service Commissioner Stan Wise; longtime state department heads; institutional GOP donors in the Leebern and Tarbutton families; Gov. Nathan Deal’s longtime business partner, and three of four members of the prominent statehouse lobbying firm, GeorgiaLink.

All in all, $2.8 million was raised during the last three months from those whose occupation and employer were listed only as “information requested.”

By contrast, the Abrams campaign listed “information requested” on 349 of about 34,000 individual contributions during that period. It did list “none” under occupation on 1,263, but that may just mean the donors are not employed or retired. And it had one donor – a Matt Jensen of Atlanta -- who listed his occupation as “none-of-your-business.”

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Early in-person voting continues to surge. The secretary of state’s office reported that about 75,000 people voted in person on Tuesday -- up from the roughly 70,000 that voted on Monday. 

All told, about 145,000 early in-person votes have been tallied and 69,006 mail-in ballots returned and processed.

That 214,171 total vote count is roughly three times higher the number of early votes cast over the same period in 2014.

Democrats are enthused by the numbers, which show roughly one-third of the early voters didn’t cast ballots in the midterm. That’s the heart of Democrat Stacey Abrams’ strategy to win the November race.

But Republicans are pumped up, too. And a breakdown of the numbers by GOP strategist Todd Rehm explains why.

He found that of the early votes, roughly 49,000 of them were cast by people who voted in this year’s GOP primary compared to about 39,000 who voted in the Democratic contest. 

And roughly 70,000 of the people who voted early cast ballots in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, while 44,000 or so voted in the Democratic contest. 

Take caution, too, in instinctively assuming those newer voters are overwhelmingly Democrats. Rehm’s analysis showed 15,220 of those voters who skipped the past two primaries came from counties that President Donald Trump carried by more than 70 percent.

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Twice, Vice President Mike Pence has had to scrap a fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp because of hurricanes. In September, it was Florence. Last week, it was Michael.

Perhaps a third attempt would have raised questions about cause-and-effect.

Our WSB Radio colleague Jamie Dupree spotted this on Pence’s Wednesday schedule at 5 p.m.: “The Vice President participates in a Kemp for Governor event. Closed press.” It’s in D.C. -- so you’re safe.

Pence, by the way, was with Kemp at the Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition in Moultrie on Tuesday, inspecting the damage from Hurricane Michael. The vice president had nice things to say about him:

“He has done an outstanding job as a state leader – as secretary of state. His presence here today speaks volumes about his commitment to the people of Georgia. And we look forward to supporting him in the election.”

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The Wall Street Journal reports that the New York attorney general’s office has subpoenaed more than a dozen advocacy groups, lobbying firms and consultants as part of an investigation of fake comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission over its proposal to end net neutrality on the internet. One of those advocacy groups is familiar to many Georgians. From the WSJ:

One subpoena went to Century Strategies, a public-relations firm used by Broadband for America. Century, whose chief executive is Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, boasts on its website that its “principals are among the nation’s most effective grass-roots organizers” and that it uses sophisticated digital tools to support its “ground game.”

“Our work was done with the highest standards of integrity and we stand by it,” Mr. Reed said when asked for comment about the New York probe.

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A donor caught our eye yesterday as we skimmed through U.S. Rep. Karen Handel’s latest campaign finance filings: one Thomas Edmunds Price. A political action committee linked to the former health secretary and Sixth District congressman donated $2,000 to his successor last month, the new report shows.

Turns out Price, who has largely laid low since resigning under pressure in September 2017, has been slowly spending the more than $1.85 million he has sitting in his old congressional campaign account.

Between July and October, the Roswell Republican contributed to the campaigns of state Rep. Betty Price, his wife, and state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick of Marietta, a physician with whom he once practiced.

Price has also donated the maximum $6,600 to statewide GOP candidates Brian Kemp, Geoff Duncan, Brad Raffensperger and Chris Carr. He separately contributed $10,000 to the Georgia Republican party and the Fulton County GOP, and also kicked in for the statehouse bids of Leah Aldridge, the Atlanta attorney challenging state Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, and Alex Kaufman, the Republican vying to replace retiring state Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs.

It’s commonplace for ex-lawmakers to use their old campaign accounts to give to other candidates, political committees or charities – the Tampa Bay Times did a big investigation into such “zombie” campaign accounts earlier this year. It’s especially prevalent among former officials mulling a return to politics.

Price, our colleague Ariel Hart reported last month, has begun dipping his feet back into public life in recent months. He joined the board of Jackson Health Care, a politically-connected health care company, sat down for a podcast with former Obama adviser David Axelrod and has periodically given speeches about health care – some of which have drawn quite a bit of attention.

Over the last year, he’s also cut big checks to House Speaker Paul Ryan and the National Republican Campaign Committee. His congressional committee’s other big expense? Legal fees.

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How wary is Stacey Abrams of any late missteps that can be exploited by Republicans? The editor of Georgia Southern University’s campus magazine found out. After she tweeted that Abrams said Georgians “shouldn’t have to work in hospitality or agriculture to make a living,” Abrams’ campaign quickly clarified. From her tweet: 

To be clear, my point is that we must continue to diversify our economy and raise wages across the board. Agriculture and hospitality are vital sectors of our economy in Georgia - but we can do more and lead in new sectors as well.

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Our friend Patricia Murphy, an Atlanta-based journalist on the national scene, has a new opinion piece in Roll Call this week with this intriguing headline: “Is Beto O’Rourke the Next Jon Ossoff?” Among the “warning signs” she lists are the piles of cash flowing into the Texas Senate race, media overexposure and even a few Kennedy comparisons. Sound familiar?

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One Democratic party elder who initially got the Jon Ossoff-Camelot comparisons going last year was U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta. The Democrat does not have an opponent on the ballot next month, nor did he face any primary opposition in May, but the 16-term congressman has raised money as if he did.

Lewis has pulled in almost $3.3 million this campaign cycle, trumping all other Georgia incumbents. Like Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux, the Democratic congressional challengers in the Sixth and Seventh Districts who recently bested their Republican incumbent opponents in fundraising, a sizable chunk of the $556,000 Lewis raised in the third quarter came from out of state through the Democratic online fundraising platform ActBlue.

He’s used the money to boost Bourdeaux and McBath’s campaigns, as well as other congressional and state candidates from across the country. He’s also hit the road in recent months to campaign for Democratic candidates. Lewis was in central Illinois yesterday, where he stumped for Democratic congressional challenger Betsy Dirksen Londrigan and led a march to the polls with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and state Rep. Carol Ammons.

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The Marietta Daily Journal today wades through some intense mudslinging in the state House District 41 race between Democratic incumbent Michael Smith of Marietta and Republican DeAnna Harris. Past personal misbehavior is alleged on both sides.

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The Athens-based band R.E.M. is urging Georgians to vote for a constitutional amendment that would generate about $20 million each year to buy land for conservation. In a Facebook post, the band called it a “win-win proposition” for voters. 

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The Second Congressional District of U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, includes much of the southwest Georgia territory hit hardest by Hurricane Michael last week.

We caught up with him on Tuesday, before he joined Vice President Mike Pence for a tour of the damage. “Farmers were anticipating a bumper crop with peanuts, cotton and pecans," he said. "Now we’re facing the worst possible scenario that we could have imagined.”

Bishop is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and will have a key role in helping craft and advance any emergency spending bill to aid hurricane victims. “We’re prepared to deal with the supplemental” appropriations bill, “ he said. “And we want to make sure that the people and communities that have been impacted will have all the resources necessary to... recover from what has been one of the most devastating hurricanes to impact our area in generations."

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U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, is ruffling feathers on Capitol Hill as he wages an internal bid to become the next chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Politico reports that Graves has taken the unusual steps of recruiting colleagues on the whip team to help him generate support, huddling with Cabinet officials and holding meetings in the offices of his close and very powerful friend Kevin McCarthy, irking some of his more traditional competitors. 

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