Georgia Democrats near cash parity with GOP, which struggles with debt

Georgia Republicans may roll their eyes when their Democratic counterparts claim Georgia may turn blue this November. But there’s one big area where the two rival parties have reached parity: money.

Democrats have raised $2 million for this campaign cycle, a figure boosted by some big checks from out-of-state donors keen to fund the party’s grass-roots machinery. And the Georgia GOP, while maintaining a slight cash advantage thanks to an uptick in donations, is still mired in debt and grappling with legal issues. The party’s ledgers remain a fraction of what they were just a few election cycles ago.

For Democrats eager to prove Georgia could be competitive thanks to changing demographics and disillusionment over Donald Trump, fundraising reports filed earlier this month with the state ethics commission are another encouraging sign. They’ve trumpeted every political prognostication that shows Georgia in play — and every Trump misstep that could turn off moderate voters.

National organizations are noticing. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the party’s national arm devoted to winning state legislative races, has contributed to the political action committee of House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta. Abrams’ PAC, GeorgiaNext, is devoted to helping elect Democrats to the statehouse.

“The DLCC is committed to building Democratic legislative majorities across the country, and our investment in Georgia reflects the state’s competitiveness up and down the ballot this year,” DLCC Executive Director Jessica Post said. “The DLCC is excited about Georgia’s potential.”

Abrams’ pack has also received $100,000 from Democratic financier George Soros and an additional $75,000 from major labor unions. GeorgiaNext has funneled $82,000 back to the state party. The party reported having $212,000 in cash on hand as of June 30, the end of the second quarter. Abrams’ PAC, which raised nearly $650,000, reported having about $24,000 in cash on hand.

Organized labor, long a mainstay of the Democratic base, sees Abrams’ work to register voters and to recruit, train and support candidates as an important step toward making Georgia competitive again.

“The Democratic Party of Georgia and Stacey Abrams are laying a strong foundation for statewide victories this cycle,” said Lonnie Stephenson, the president of the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers.

Republicans beg to differ and say they see an optimistic symbol in the midyear campaign finance reports: a party on the rebound after months of embarrassing financial disarray with a mission to re-elect U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson to a third term while also chipping in to Trump’s cause.

The Georgia GOP reported about $250,000 in cash on hand, thanks partly to a stream of large corporate donations over the past three months. But that’s a far cry from the millions the state’s dominant political party once commanded, and it’s even more paltry when compared to the roughly $200,000 in debt the party reported.

The party’s bank account isn’t nearly as strong as it was at the start of 2010, when it had $2 million. The nadir, it seems, came in December 2015, when the party claimed only $11,403 in cash on hand at the year’s end.

The Georgia GOP has relied upon former U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston to help restock, and the Savannah Republican has organized regular fundraisers with national figures and statewide leaders. An event at the party’s state convention in June featuring former Texas Gov. Rick Perry attracted hundreds of Republican donors.

The party has benefited from a mix of big checks from big-name corporations, including executives from Altria Client Services, an arm of the tobacco giant; Georgia Power; and Coca-Cola Enterprises. And many of the alternates and delegates to next week’s GOP convention dipped into their wallets for donations.

Justin Tomczak, a GOP activist who is one of the more outspoken critics of the party’s financing, credited Kingston for helping level the party’s fortunes. He said the one-time Senate candidate is “doing an outstanding job bringing in the funds necessary to fund party operations” this election cycle.

Party spokesman Ryan Mahoney said the cash will help the GOP preserve Georgia’s “red-state status” while helping Isakson and Trump. But looming over the party are several lawsuits seeking hefty judgments.

Former Georgia GOP employee Qiana Keith claimed the organization’s employees humiliated her and referred to her with a racial slur in one complaint. And Georgia GOP Chairman John Padgett was targeted with a complaint claiming he has reneged on more than $340,000 in outstanding legal fees owed to his former law firm incurred in defending himself against Keith’s lawsuit.

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