Republicans deride Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jason Carter as a “limousine liberal.” His campaign fundraising has given them plenty of fodder to press their attack.
The Atlanta Democrat has received contributions from a gilded list of connected Hollywood types, from famed director Steven Spielberg to George Soros, the liberal-leaning mega donor. Actors Ian Somerhalder and Kate Capshaw are among his supporters, along with TV writer Norman Lear and film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks studios.
Republicans want to make sure Georgians remember that on Election Day.
”I don’t think the rank-and-file Georgia voters have a lot in common with Steven Spielberg and George Soros,” said Jerry Keen, a former state House Republican leader who is now a Capitol lobbyist. “All you need to do is throw in Jane Fonda and you have hit the trifecta of liberalism.”
State Senate Minority Whip Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, called it “absurd” for Republicans to target Carter’s Hollywood money when the GOP has backed paying tens of millions of dollars in state tax credits to California companies to shoot films and TV shows in Georgia.
“How can (Deal) criticize Jason for taking contributions from Hollywood when he is giving tax credits to Hollywood producers?” Fort asked. “I think voters will see that is hypocritical.”
In all, about 27 percent of donors named in Carter’s campaign finance filings come from out of state, including about 10 percent from California. These ties, some forged with the help of his famous grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter, have helped him outraise Gov. Nathan Deal by more than $1 million this year in the wild race for governor.
The incumbent Republican is keen to turn Carter’s out-of-state donors into one of the Democrat’s biggest liabilities. At campaign events, the governor is quick to paint his November opponent as a lefty patsy largely propped up by outside spending. Deal spokeswoman Jen Talaber called Carter “a limousine liberal desperately trying to be someone else.”
“When he’s not borrowing the Rolodex of his fundraiser-in-chief, President Jimmy Carter, Jason Carter relies on celebrities from Beverly Hills and billionaires from New York City to bankroll his campaign,” Talaber said, adding: “Hollywood stars and labor bosses may be impressed by Jimmy and Jason Carter, but Georgians are not.”
Carter brushed off the attacks as a political distraction and a sign that Republicans feel threatened by his campaign.
“Governor Deal is about to see this giant amount of Washington money pour in from the Republican Governors Association,” Carter said. “So I don’t think that matters one way or another.”
‘Calling on all these old ties’
The governor is no stranger to out-of-state support. About 10 percent of donors who gave to Deal this year don’t live in Georgia, and he’s raised tens of thousands of dollars from supporters in places such as Alabama, California and Florida. Much of the money comes from interests wanting state contracts, tax breaks or favorable legislation.
In addition, the governor enjoys support from outside national groups that Carter can only dream about. The Republican Governors Association has pumped $1.5 million into ads depicting Carter as a leftist trial lawyer and attacking his support for Medicaid expansion, and it is likely to invest more heavily as November nears.
His campaign has also collected more than $12,000 from the Koch brothers, mega funders of conservative causes, and has taken money from other noteworthy donors. Among them is Atlanta film mogul Tyler Perry, a major Democratic benefactor, who surprised observers when he pumped more than $12,000 into Deal’s re-election bid.
Carter, meanwhile, counts a left-leaning organization called Better Georgia as the biggest outside organization on his side. The political action committee for the Athens-based group reported about $150,000 in total revenue this year, much of which was spent to support Valarie Wilson, the Democratic candidate for state school superintendent.
The governor makes no mention of his outside support when he brings up the specter of Carter’s fundraising machine. He warns audiences that the Democrat is on a single-minded mission to follow his grandfather’s footsteps to the White House.
“This is an election year in which David and I are going to see a lot of out-of-state money coming in against us,” Deal said at a recent rally with GOP Senate nominee David Perdue. “It is from parts of the county that are traditionally Democratic. They are calling on all these old ties.”
‘I want a better world’
Carter’s campaign surprised Georgia’s political world in April when it reported raising more than $400,000 in the 11 days after the legislative session ended. A late March cocktail fundraiser in New York featuring the candidate and his grandfather offered a glimpse at Carter’s national network.
Among the hosts of that event were Jon Stryker, a billionaire heir of a medical supply firm and top bundler for President Barack Obama; Maurice Sonnenberg, a Wall Street investor; and Tonio Burgos, a one-time aide to Mario Cuomo who now heads a prominent lobbying firm. Each helped Carter’s campaign take in more than $160,000 from Big Apple donors.
Carter has also tapped a donor base in Illinois, where he spent much of his childhood growing up in metropolitan Chicago. He’s collected more than $80,000 from the likes of Jennifer Cizner, the city of Chicago’s director of global affairs, and Greg Carlin, the chief executive of a gaming company that owns three casinos.
But it’s the Hollywood ties that prove the flashiest. Singer Nancy Sinatra and film studio executive Sherry Lansing are among his supporters there. So is Bel Air real estate titan Syd Leibovitch. In all, he’s raised more than $300,000 from California donors.
One of his lesser-known supporters there is Brooke Megdal, a psychotherapist with The Loving Heart Center in Los Angeles. She said she was drawn to Carter after hearing him speak at an event.
“I found him to be an incredibly sincere and intelligent politician. He’s in an environment where few people want to come from their heart, but he was. He just wanted to do good for other people — not his ego,” said Megdal, who ponied up $1,350 for the campaign. “I want a better world for people, period. And if something moves my head and inspires me, I want to help.”‘They just want a beachhead’
Republicans plan to increasingly attempt to connect the dots between Carter’s out-of-state support and his electoral agenda, which has largely focused on boosting funding for education. Rusty Paul, a lobbyist and former GOP lawmaker, said donors from Wall Street and Hollywood come with a price.
“They are supporting you because they feel you will implement their ideological agenda,” Paul said. “They don’t write checks out of pure altruistic motives. They want a certain policy outcome to occur.”
Keen, the former House GOP leader, said he’s convinced Hollywood types just want a Democratic governor in Georgia to help Hillary Clinton’s campaign if she runs for president in 2016.
“They don’t care about Jason Carter,” he said. “They just want a beachhead.”
Olga Strickland, an Arizona retiree who gave Carter $100 after reading about him online, said her motives were more sincere.
“I think we need more honest people, and a lot of people would benefit by having a more liberal person in office,” she said. “I try to do the right thing, and I think he has a good shot to win.”
By the way, she added, she’ll probably donate to Carter again before November.
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.