Stacey Abrams’ campaign on Wednesday asked a judge to deny the Georgia ethics commission’s demand for more documents linked to the Democrat’s 2018 race for governor, saying it had already sufficiently complied with the panel’s request.
It said the commission was seeking documents from the campaign of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s top rival that are unrelated to campaign finance issues — which are within the panel’s jurisdiction. And it said that it has no documents showing illegal coordination between the campaign and third-party groups that backed her unsuccessful bid for governor.
The commission said in a Fulton County Superior Court filing earlier this month that it requested thousands of documents as part of its probe into possible coordination between Abrams and so-called independent groups. Such groups spent millions of dollars backing Abrams, but, by law, they are not allowed to coordinate directly with a campaign.
The Abrams campaign said it handed over thousands of documents to the commission’s investigators, and that the judge didn’t have jurisdiction to rule in such a preliminary investigation with the commission still not having shown there is evidence a violation occurred.
“This court, as a matter of first impression, is being asked to find that the commission has the power to turn upside down every single campaign for public office in the State of Georgia, and to shake out and pull into the public record every document, email, and utterance unrelated to campaign finance, without regard to the subject matter of the communication,” the campaign’s filing said.
“There is no law that supports this approach, though there are many that condemn it.”
Earlier this month, David Emadi, the executive director of the commission, said the Abrams campaign “refused to comply with the lawfully issued subpoenas” the authority filed, “so we are taking the same legal measures we have taken in all other cases where the respondent has refused to comply with lawfully issued subpoenas.”
Emadi angered Abrams’ backers shortly after he took office in April by saying he would subpoena her campaign records and those of groups that supported her. The commission sought all correspondence between the campaign and a number of groups that registered and mobilized voters, many with a focus on energizing minorities.
They included the voting rights group Abrams helped launch after her defeat last year and a nonprofit co-founded by state Sen. Nikema Williams, the head of the state Democratic Party.
Emadi revealed that investigators intend to present evidence the Abrams campaign accepted donations from four groups that exceeded maximum contribution limits for a statewide campaign. Abrams’ attorney has denied the claim, and her campaign manager said the commission has failed to prove any wrongdoing.
Abrams’ supporters have pointed to Emadi’s past ties to the Republican Party to accuse him of bias. He is a former officer in the Douglas County GOP and donated $600 to Kemp’s campaign.
But one of the first major cases taken before the commission since Emadi took office was the long-running investigation into former Republican Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, who is accused of, among other things, illegally using campaign money to put a down payment on a house and to pay for luxury car leases and child care. The commission’s probe into Oxendine’s campaigns stemmed from two Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigations.
In Wednesday’s filings, the Abrams campaign asserted that the commission wanted documents containing internal communications on things such as strategy that are unrelated to possible campaign finance violations, and that all its documents would be open to the public, which is typical of ethics cases once they are closed.
Abrams’ top aide, Lauren Groh-Wargo, said Emadi’s “demands are a weaponization of government and a dangerous affront to free expression of political opinion and activity for every campaign for every public office in the state of Georgia.”
“The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and common sense alike refute that the commission’s whim of undisclosed suspicion is sufficient rationale for seizure of private campaign communications,” she said.
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