$1 million Soros gift gives Georgia Democrats advantage over state GOP

Thanks to a $1 million contribution from billionaire mega-donor George Soros, the Georgia Democratic Party began the second half of 2018 with three times as much money in the bank as the state’s majority Republican Party, according to new campaign finance reports.

That’s a turnaround from most recent gubernatorial election years, when the Georgia GOP had big money advantages.

That still might wind up being the case this fall because millions of dollars are expected to pour in from donors once the GOP selects its nominees for governor and lieutenant governor on July 24. And legislative and independent Republican political action committees have built up war chests in anticipation of the races as well.

But the $1 million Soros donation on June 27 is the second to a Democratic campaign cause this year by an out-of-state contributor: San Francisco investor Susan Sandler gave $1 million in March to a political action committee backing Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams.

She’d given $250,000 to the same PAC a few weeks earlier.

DuBose Porter, a former state lawmaker and chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party, said Abrams has a lot to do with the money flowing to the party and state campaigns.

“Donors are certainly excited about Stacey Abrams at the top of the ticket,” Porter said. “People are excited about Democratic candidates up and down the ticket.”

Of the Soros contribution, Republican Party Chairman John Watson said, “There has obviously been a meeting of the extreme leftist, open-border billionaires, and they’ve obviously decided to go all in for Stacey Abrams.”

But Watson predicted the money that flowed in through the end of June — when the last reporting period ended — was just a start.

“I think we should all expect there will be broken records for expenditures in this gubernatorial-election cycle this fall,” Watson said.

That means Georgians are in for TV advertising and campaign mailing overload as candidates and the parties search for votes.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week that the race to succeed Gov. Nathan Deal, with four months to go, is already the most expensive in Georgia history, with roughly $33 million raised or loaned to campaigns. That doesn't include the "independent" PACs and funds spending millions more on the race.

The flow may only pick up once Republicans decide whether to nominate Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle or Secretary of State Brian Kemp for governor.

In its June 30 state report, the Georgia Democratic Party reported having $1.58 million in the bank. The Republican Party — which holds every major statewide office and controls both chambers of the General Assembly — reported having $516,000 on hand and $523,000 in debt.

Much of the debt can be attributed to a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by a former staffer. The AJC reported in April that the party had to pay out more than $500,000 to settle the suit.

The two parties would have roughly the same amount in the bank without the $1 million Soros donation.

There have been other big single contributions like Soros’ over the years, though typically not from individuals.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce business lobby gave $1 million to the Georgia GOP in 2006, and the Republican Governors Association gave $1.5 million to the state RGA PAC in 2010 and an additional $1 million in 2014.

State Sen. David Shafer, who is running for lieutenant governor, gave $1.025 million in leftover campaign funds from his Senate committee last year to a PAC called the Republican Leadership Fund, which is run by a lobbyist who supports him.

On the Democratic side, the party received $1 million from the Washington-based Service Employees International Union in 2010.

Also, the National Education Association teachers union contributed $2.9 million in two donations to the successful fight to defeat a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the state to take over failing schools.

Soros has put nearly $3 million into Georgia causes and candidates since the 2014 campaigns. The New York billionaire and his family have given $94,000 directly to Abrams' gubernatorial campaign.

While the Democratic Party appears on paper to have an advantage so far this year, both sides also have PACs that raise and spend big money.

Both parties rely on national governors association and congressional PACs that funnel money into Georgia. In fact, during the three months leading up to the June 30 filing, the top GOP donor, according to its state report, was the Republican National Committee, which gave $62,000.

Porter and Watson, the party chairmen, agree why Georgia is hot politically this year.

“The Democrats think Georgia is in play, and their dollars will follow what they think is going to be a heavily contested gubernatorial race,” Watson said. They think, he said, Abrams can win. “It ain’t gonna happen,” he added.

Porter disagrees. “People believe in the ability of Stacey Abrams to be the next governor of Georgia,” he said.

2018 campaign

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is covering the issues and candidates in a busy election year. Gun rights, immigration and tax policy were all issues that factored in the results of the Georgia primary, and they were all stories the AJC covered in the run-up to the vote. Look for more at PoliticallyGeorgia.com as the state approaches the next political milepost, the July 24 runoff.