Big business opens wallet for friendly Georgia lawmakers in primary

Two years ago big business-supported political action committees that helped oust state lawmakers who had drawn the ire of Georgia House leadership.

This year they are back helping to defend business-friendly legislative leaders and candidates facing primary fights on Tuesday.

Lawmakers are getting help from the big business lobby for supporting its agenda the past two years, especially its top priority of the 2015 session, the $900 million-a-year tax hike to pay for transportation projects.

The business giants are also funding mailings against one suburban Atlanta Republican who voted against the tax increase.

Some Republicans who backed the transportation measure knew they’d likely catch flak from constituents for voting to raises taxes, and they are now facing opponents who are noting that vote as a reason they should be ousted.

The Georgia Chamber and the Georgia Coalition for Job Creation, whose donors tend to overlap, have combined to spend about $300,000 in recent weeks, more than half for mailings by Quick Response Communications, a company incorporated in 2014 shortly before the GOP primaries.

The controller for The Stoneridge Group, a media consulting company that worked on Gov. Nathan Deal’s campaigns, among others, is listed as the organizer of Quick Response on the Georgia Secretary of State Office’s website.

The Georgia Chamber reported paying Quick Response about $20,000 from May 10 to 13 for mailings in support of House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge; House Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington; Senate Economic Development Chairman Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta; and Senate Majority Whip Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega.

Each faces Republican opponents in Tuesday’s primary, with Beach probably having the toughest challenge, from self-funding candidate Aaron Barlow, a Milton investor.

The Georgia Coalition for Job Creation listed spending on mailings for Beach; House Regulated Industries Chairman Howard Maxwell, R-Dallas; House Banking Chairman Greg Morris, R-Vidalia; Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, chairman of the budget subcommittee on education; Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs; and candidates for several open seats.

“The priorities of the Georgia Coalition for Job Creation reflect its name,” said Brian Robinson, a spokesman for the group and a former communications director for Deal. “Keeping and creating high-paying jobs for Georgians takes strong leadership, and the coalition backs candidates who’ve demonstrated the vision needed for long-term economic growth.”

The coalition has sent out mailings for Canton business owner Kevin Moore, who’s running against Rep. Scot Turner, R-Holly Springs, who voted against the transportation tax hike in 2015.

“I was surprised by it,” Turner said. “They have never come to me on anything other than the tax increase vote. I have a pro-business record.”

Turner said he may have been a target because he was “louder than most” in his opposition to the tax hike. “I live in a very Republican district that opposes tax increases,” he said. “I was voting with my constituents.”

A mailing late last week from the coalition asks, “Which candidate for State House did nothing for jobs, but wanted unlimited gifts for himself?”

Turner has not taken gifts from lobbyists, but he voted against legislation in 2013 to limit gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers. Turner said he voted against that legislation because he felt other provisions violated the First Amendment rights of individuals by requiring more people to register as lobbyists.

Morris also voted against the transportation tax hike, but, unlike Turner, he is a House committee chairman. Morris is in a tough re-election race against an opponent he barely beat in 2014.

In 2014, the Georgia Coalition for Job Creation was credited with helping to oust Rep. Charles Gregory, R-Kennesaw, and Rep. Sam Moore, R-Ball Ground, two Republicans who ran afoul of the House leadership.

Since the 2014 primaries, it has reported raising about $300,000, including $150,000 from Georgia Power, $65,000 from AT&T, and $25,000 each from construction equipment company Yancey Bros., nursing home giant PruittHealth and SunTrust Banks. That money has been put into the primary races in the past month.

The Metro Atlanta Chamber, a big backer of the transportation bill last year and a leading opponent of “religious liberty” legislation this year, has also been a big player in campaigns. It contributed directly to candidates, such as Burns and House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, who have primary races this year. The Metro Atlanta Chamber political action committee has contributed about $19,000 since the beginning of the year, but it has $380,000 more in the bank.

It has given about $135,000 to incumbents, legislative candidates and partisan committees since the 2014 primary, according to disclosure reports.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X