After bruising midyear elections, Georgia Republicans refill coffers

State Republican Party Chairman David Shafer said the GOP needs more money and better organization to regain momentum in Georgia. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

State Republican Party Chairman David Shafer said the GOP needs more money and better organization to regain momentum in Georgia. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

After Georgia Democrats made big gains in the midterm legislative elections and came close to winning the Governor’s Mansion and other statewide posts, even some Republicans worried the momentum was starting to turn against them.

But recently filed campaign disclosure reports show big-money donors, lobbyists and special-interest business associations are sticking with the majority party, big time.

The Georgia GOP and the political action committees for the party’s majority caucuses raised more than $1.3 million during the past five months, much of it since the 2019 legislative session ended.

The haul has allowed the Georgia Republican Party to pay down its debt — much of it run up because it had to fight a staff racial discrimination lawsuit. The debt was $736,000 at the end of December 2017, a few months after the case was settled. As of June 30, the party listed about $139,000 in debt.

Republican Party Chairman David Shafer said after the tough midterm elections — during which Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams spent a record amount of money — fundraising had to be one of the GOP's priorities.

“The 2018 elections were uncomfortably close,” he said. “It will take more money and better organization going forward. The era of complacency has ended.”

The state Democratic Party reported raising about $400,000 in the first six months of the year. The two parties had similar amounts banked as of the end of the reporting period.

“I feel great about where we sit financially, and you are going to see a bigger spike in the numbers over the next few reporting cycles,” said Scott Hogan, the executive director of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “Folks want to engage, they want to donate. Democrats are more tuned in, more excited about this (upcoming) election in Georgia.”

During the first half of the year, neither party came close to matching the kind of money brought in by the political action committee for Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group started by Abrams. Fair Fight's PAC, like Abrams' campaign last year, has national reach, and it took in $3.9 million during the first six months of the year, most of it from outside of Georgia.

Fair Fight’s PAC, while unaffiliated with the Democratic Party, contributed to the campaigns of more than 50 Democratic lawmakers and gave to organizations that support some of the party’s top issues.

However, while Democrats won seats in the midterm elections and are vowing to go after GOP lawmakers who backed a new law to restrict abortion, the traditional big-money donors gave heavily to the Republican cause.

The party’s report shows its biggest donor was a national Republican committee called Take Back the House 2020, which gave $90,000.

But the state GOP also received $30,000 from executives of the General Wholesale Co., an Atlanta-based beverage distributor; $25,000 from another distributor, Georgia Crown Distributing; $25,000 from Georgia Power; and $10,000 each from Coca-Cola, Waffle House, heavy-equipment company Yancey Brothers, the Georgia Association of Realtors and CoreCivics of Tennessee, a private prison company that received almost $100 million from the state for housing inmates in 2018. Several other major associations, companies and lobbyists gave between $1,000 and $10,000.

Likewise, the Georgia House Republican Trust and Georgia Republican Senatorial Committee took in major contributions from dozens of businesses and associations with interest in Statehouse happenings during the first half of the year.

The trial lawyers association gave $35,000. Infrastructure design firm HNTB, which did about $45 million worth of business with the Department of Transportation last year, contributed $27,500 to the House Republican Trust. Georgia Racing & Entertainment — based in the tallest building in Indianapolis — gave $25,000. Republican lawmakers have pushed horse racing and casino gambling legislation the past few years.

Georgia Power chipped in $20,000, UPS $17,500 and Walmart $16,000, while nursing home giant United Health Services contributed $15,000 to the House Republicans.

Combined, the state party and the two caucus funds listed having more than $1 million in the bank as of June 30, about 17 months before the 2020 elections.

The Democratic Party received a smaller amount from the trial lawyers, as well as money from the grocery store, convenience store and community hospital associations, mega drug company Pfizer and the major Statehouse lobbying firm Troutman Sanders.

For the Georgia Republican Party, the strong fundraising was especially important because it has been trying to both win elections and dig out from under a mountain of debt over the past several years.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in the fall of 2017 that the party paid more than $500,000 to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by a former staffer," with the tab running closer to $1 million with legal fees.

Qiana Keith, a former GOP staffer, said her co-workers had referred to her with a racial slur and humiliated her.

The party spent several years before and after the settlement deferring payments and running up debt. Shafer said it’s important for that era to end.

Said Shafer: “We need to get out of the business of borrowing against future elections to win current ones.”

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