The Jolt: Surrogate groups step up for Kelly Loeffler

Georgia Life Alliance mailer

News and analysis from the AJC politics team

Surrogates are taking the lead in the defense of U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., pumping her up and attempting to tear down U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga, who is attempting to unseat her.

This weekend, a mailer from Georgia Life Alliance began hitting Georgia voters, part of a $3 million anti-abortion campaign announced last month. It praises Loeffler for her first votes in January:

"...After just being sworn into office, Senator Loeffler has also voted to confirm strong conservatives to the bench, while supporting pro-life measures that limit abortions after 20 weeks and prevent tax dollars from funding abortions."

The group is careful to include fellow Republican incumbent David Perdue in its praise. Georgia Life Alliance is a group with a 501c3 designation from the Internal Revenue Service, which means we should eventually be able to say who’s financing its campaign.

Another group, the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, endorsed Loeffler Monday as a "strong pro-life, pro-woman leader" -- weeks after the organization's leader said she should be "disqualified" because she served on the board of Grady Memorial Hospital.

That flip-flop was spurred partly by Loeffler’s support for three anti-abortion measures during her first month in office, though it also comes as her campaign is pressuring Washington conservative groups to pick sides with the incumbent.

More opaque is the sharp attack on Collins for his vote in support of a sweeping federal farm package -- a curious target, given that President Donald Trump backed the bailout, as did Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and the whole of Georgia agriculture.

Records also show that Loeffler’s family farm in Illinois has benefited from the agricultural aid.

The fusillade comes in the form of a video, backed by significant TV time in metro Atlanta, pushed out by The anti-tax Club for Growth, a 501c4 group that is allowed to keep its non-deductible donations private. Watch it here:

Club for Growth assails the four-term congressman for his vote on a "$60 billion welfare program," citing the same farm bill that Collins supported, along with U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue.

That vote contributed to Collins' lackluster 57 rating in the Washington-based group's latest scorecard and was one of the factors in its decision to pour millions of dollars into ads supporting Loeffler's November election.

A database from the Environmental Working Group showed that Loeffler's family farm collected nearly $1.3 million in federal subsidies, mostly for corn and soybeans, since 1995.

Asked for a response, Loeffler spokesman Stephen Lawson accused Collins of being “so incredibly desperate he’s attacking family farms for taking what he voted for. That’s about as Washington-politician as it gets.” The Loeffler campaign also said it’s unclear how much her family’s farm received in subsidies, since some of the land has been sold over the last decade and a half.

Collins spokesman Dan McLagan swiped back.

“Letting her rotten Washington special interest friends attack farmers and the farm bill while her family takes over $1 million in farm subsidies is a very swamp-like thing to do,” he said. “She’s fitting right in in Washington.”

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On that same topic, AJC investigative reporter Alan Judd has turned a deep dive into the challenges that U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler's family ties and finances pose. A taste:

Founded in 2000 by Jeffrey Sprecher, now Loeffler's husband and still the company's chief executive and largest individual shareholder, ICE operates 12 exchanges and other subsidiaries that fall under the supervision of one or more federal financial regulatory agencies. Now, Loeffler will help write laws that govern those regulators, help approve appointments to their boards and vote on government policies that affect the company's — and her own — bottom line.

In recent interviews, nearly a dozen ethics experts in Washington said the entanglement of Loeffler's public and private interests has few, if any, recent precedents in Congress.

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U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler's campaign quietly filed an amendment to her campaign finance paperwork over the weekend that her aides say was intended to make clear she is not earning any interest on a $5 million loan to her campaign.

It came after a liberal blog pointed out that she charged 2.41% interest on the loan in her Federal Election Commission filing, which meant she could have potentially earned $120,000 over the course of 2020.

“Senator Loeffler is not and will not be earning ANY interest on her $5 million loan to the campaign,” said her spokesman Stephen Lawson in a statement.

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Over the weekend, Politico.com posted a piece on Rachel Bitecofer, a political scientist who earned her doctorate from the University of Georgia, considers Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz as a mentor, and believes the much-vaunted "center" in American politics, inhabited by swing voters, has become something of a myth. A taste:

Bitecofer, a 42-year-old professor at Christopher Newport University in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, was little known in the extremely online, extremely male-dominated world of political forecasting until November 2018. That's when she nailed almost to the number the nature and size of the Democrats' win in the House, even as other forecasters went wobbly in the race's final days. Not only that, but she put out her forecast back in July, and then stuck by it while polling shifted throughout the summer and fall.

And today her model tells her the Democrats are a near lock for the presidency in 2020, and are likely to gain House seats and have a decent shot at retaking the Senate. If she's right, we are now in a post-economy, post-incumbency, post record-while-in-office era of politics. Her analysis, as Bitecofer puts it with characteristic immodesty, amounts to nothing less than "flipping giant paradigms of electoral theory upside down."

One interesting tidbit underlined in the piece: Much focus has been placed on the shift of white, college-educated women re-aligning as Democrats. Bitecofer points out that the same shift has occurred among white, college-educated men.

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Something odd is up in Athens. Last year, District Attorney Ken Mauldin announced that he wouldn't run for re-election, leaving two Democrats to vy for the honor of prosecuting crime in Oconee and Clarke counties: Former state Rep. Deborah Gonzalez and Brian Patterson, who serves as the current chief assistant district attorney under Mauldin.

But then Mauldin became suddenly weary. From the Athens Banner-Herald:

"When I announced in July that I would not seek re-election for a sixth time as District Attorney, it was my intent to serve out the remainder of my term, which runs through the end of this year. However, at that time I did not realize the strong pull I would feel to look ahead past my time as district attorney," Mauldin said in a prepared statement.

"In the last few months, particularly, I have come to understand that it's time for this part of my life and career to come to an end and a new chapter to begin," he said.

Given a Georgia law passed two years ago, by resigning as of Feb. 29, Mauldin has pushed the contest into a Nov. 3 special election. But if Gov. Brian Kemp puts off naming a replacement until May 3, the contest is delayed an entire two years -- until the 2022 mid-term election.

Over at Flagpole, veteran reporter Blake Aued weighs in:

"It is the ultimate form of voter suppression," [Gonzalez] said in a video posted on Facebook and YouTube. Gonzalez called it a good ol' boy plot to stop a progressive woman of color from winning the race.

Gonzalez has set up a petition and is urging supporters to call Kemp's office and urge him to appoint Mauldin's replacement before May 3. (Mauldin, it should be noted, has already called on Kemp to appoint someone quickly.)

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State Rep. David Dreyer of Atlanta and several other Democrats have introduced House Bill 902, which would:

"[R]equire candidates to swear at the time of qualifying that neither the candidate nor his or her surrogate has colluded with a foreign state, foreign government, or citizen of a foreign state, or requested assistance in any form to such state, government, or citizen to influence the outcome of any local, state, or federal election in the United States of America…"

Clearly, this is a measure that will breeze right through a GOP-controlled Legislature.

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President Donald Trump will release his budget proposal today for the fiscal year that begins in October. News agencies that got an early look at his proposal said it includes steep cuts to federal agencies that are unlikely to be embraced by Congress, which has final say on spending.

One component we will be looking at closely is any projected spending on the continued expansion of the Port of Savannah.

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The U.S. Senate will take a procedural vote today that could set up the confirmation of Andrew Brasher to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which covers Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

coalition of civil rights groups is opposing Brasher's nomination, including the NAACP, the AFL-CIO and National Council of Jewish Women. They say his record while serving as Alabama's solicitor general demonstrated hostility toward minorities, particularly when it comes to voting rights.

Last year, Brasher was confirmed to the federal court in the Middle District of Alabama in a strict party-line vote.

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An important clarification we need to make about an item that was in Friday's Jolt: U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are lobbying for the Army Corps headquarters to be located at Fort Benning, not the the Army Corps of Engineers.

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