Georgia governor’s race shatters fundraising record

Democratic nominee for governor Stacey Abrams and Republican nominee Brian Kemp greet each other before a live taping of a debate. The candidates each reported Thursday raising more than $20 million over the course of the campaign. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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Democratic nominee for governor Stacey Abrams and Republican nominee Brian Kemp greet each other before a live taping of a debate. The candidates each reported Thursday raising more than $20 million over the course of the campaign. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Georgia’s race for governor continues to shatter campaign money records as Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp reported Thursday that they had both topped the $20 million mark for contributions before the Nov. 6 election

The latest reports, which cover the period from Oct. 1 through Oct. 25, underscore the dynamics that have long shaped the race. About two-thirds of the money Abrams raised from named contributors came from out-of-state donors. Kemp, meanwhile, has taken from the man he beat for the GOP nomination the mantle of the candidate of Georgia's Capitol crowd: lobbyists, special-interest statehouse political action committees and institutional donors who seek to back the winner in each governor's race.

Abrams reported raising $5.9 million in October through the reporting deadline, and she has taken in $22 million overall. Kemp reported raising $4 million in the most recent period and just under $21 million overall.

Combined with the opponents they vanquished earlier this year, candidates in this year’s race for governor have collected about $66.5 million, making it by far the costliest contest of its kind in Georgia history.

That’s not counting millions being poured into TV and online advertising and mailings by the state parties and other groups.

Kemp reported having $4.2 million left in his campaign as of Oct. 25, and Abrams $3.9 million. That's important because polls show the race is extremely close. With Libertarian Ted Metz also on the ballot, there is a possibility neither Abrams nor Kemp will win a majority of votes, leading to a runoff election in December.

Abrams and Kemp have collected the giant cash hauls even though neither entered the race as the favorite of the well-heeled Capitol crowd. That distinction went to Lt.Gov. Casey Cagle, who amassed more than $11.6 million before he was trounced by Kemp in the GOP primary runoff in July.

Abrams has become a bona fide national Democratic star, and she has peppered her schedule this year with fundraising trips across the nation. Much of her money was raised outside the state, but her campaign has consistently highlighted small-dollar support from tens of thousands of Georgia donors. In all, the campaign said, more than 42,000 Georgians have donated to the campaign.

The torrent of cash has ensured spending on flyers to fill mailboxes and litter doorsteps, ads that flood the airwaves and fill websites and mobile phones, and expanded field staffs to knock on doors and organize rallies.

“We are humbled and energized by the huge investment and belief in this campaign from Georgians in all 159 counties showing that voters are ready for Stacey Abrams to be governor — for her experience, for her vision and for her leadership,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, her campaign manager. “These funds have been channeled into our massive voter turnout, persuasion and engagement operations ensuring millions of eligible Georgians in every corner of the state cast their ballots early or on Nov. 6 and lead this campaign to victory.”

Abrams has raised millions from small-money donors whose names aren’t reported. However, of the $4 million from donors that Abrams disclosed in the most recent reporting period, about $2.7 million came from outside Georgia, including $944,000 from California and $397,000 from New York, according to a review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Among the big donors were U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi ($6,600) and a host of actors and actresses, including Will Ferrell ($6,600), Tiffany Haddish ($5,000), Taraji P. Henson ($5,000), Tracee Ellis Ross ($5,000) and Marlon Wayans ($5,000).

Republicans have hammered Abrams over her out-of-state fundraising, calling her a "radical" who better fit California than Georgia. That kind of talk continued Thursday before and after the latest fundraising numbers were released.

“The limousine set in Hollywood who worship socialism, love Pelosi and are infatuated with Stacey Abrams aren’t going to buy a Georgia election,” said John Watson, the chairman of the Georgia Republican Party.

The AJC recently reported that Abrams has received only $14,000 from Hollywood donors, but California in general has been her hottest out-of-state fundraising locale.

Kemp, meanwhile, has continued to be the choice of those with interests in legislation and funding at the Capitol. Among his big donors in the most recent reporting period were the state's biggest road contractor, C.W. Matthews ($6,600); Coca-Cola Co. ($6,600); Delta Air Lines ($6,600), which is hoping for lawmakers to make permanent a tax break for airlines the week after the election; the Georgia Ready Mix Association ($6,600); law and lobbying firm Holland & Knight ($6,600); Koch Industries ($6,600); UnitedHealth ($6,600); nursing home giant PruittHealth ($6,600); and a PAC largely funded by another big nursing home company ($10,500).


It's a busy election year, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is keeping the spotlight on the leading candidates for governor, Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams. Recent AJC stories have examined Kemp's finances and Abrams' position while in the state Legislature as a leading collector of per diem. Look for more at as the state heads for the general election on Nov. 6.

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