Ossoff pulls in record donations for Georgia special election

Democrat Jon Ossoff has raised more than $8.3 million for his campaign to represent suburban Atlanta in Congress, the most significant sign yet that the political newcomer has become a national symbol of the resistance to President Donald Trump.

Ossoff’s financial disclosure, to be released Thursday, shows he has $2.1 million on hand for the final stretch of the campaign. His contributions came from across the nation, including more than $1 million raised by the liberal advocacy site the Daily Kos. Sure to raise eyebrows in Georgia, however, is the campaign’s revelation that 95 percent of all of Ossoff’s donors are from out of state.

The fundraising haul is an astounding figure for a 30-year-old former congressional aide virtually unheard of in Georgia political circles before he jumped in the race to represent the state’s 6th District.

Meanwhile, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel's campaign announced it has raised $463,000 so far and has more than $183,000 in the bank with roughly two weeks until Election Day. Handel's campaign said nearly 90 percent of its reported 831 individual donors are from Georgia. (A detailed list has yet to be made available on the Federal Election Commission's website.)

Former state Sen. Judson Hill previously disclosed that he's raised $473,000 and that he had $113,000 on hand.

Hill has actually already filed his pre-election report with the Federal Election Commission. That filing shows his former colleagues in the General Assembly contributed more than $17,000 to his campaign. That includes money from 18 members of the Senate. State-level lobbyists kicked in an additional $3,800.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich contributed $500.

But the real news in Hill’s report is that special-interest groups, specifically political action committees, contributed more than $47,000. While some of those were Georgia PACs, many are Washington-based.

Among other candidates, Republican Mohammad Ali Bhuiyan raised more than $25,000, according to his pre-election report, and he loaned himself an additional $7,700. Republican Keith Grawert, meanwhile, brought in $21,400 this period and raised more than $50,000 for the election, although that includes a $30,000 personal loan.

But Ossoff’s massive haul will almost certainly overshadow all other candidates, and not just in Georgia. His fundraising total is the most for a congressional candidate since Democrat Randy Perkins put nearly $9 million of his own money into in his bid for Florida’s 18th District in 2016, according to the campaign-finance website OpenSecrets.org.

It’s worth noting that Perkins lost that race to Republican Brian Mast, who raised just under $3 million.

Among Georgians, Ossoff’s take would appear to be a record. Former Democratic Congressman John Barrow raised more than $3.5 million when he lost his re-election bid in 2014. Republican Bob Barr raised $3.4 million in 2000 to defend his seat in Congress, although his Democratic opponent, Roger Kahn, raised $4 million.

Ossoff’s fundraising is not only nearly 18 times greater than several of his leading rivals, he is also far outpacing the entire cost of Georgia’s last open congressional election. Fundraising in that November race to represent west Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District totaled less than $3 million for 10 candidates.

Ossoff’s “Make Trump Furious” campaign has helped him emerge as the unquestioned leader in the 18-candidate field to represent a traditionally Republican stronghold. He’s captured celebrity endorsements, rattled Republican heavyweights and enlisted thousands of volunteers. He openly talks about winning the race outright in April to avoid a June 20 runoff.

“The campaign’s goal is not to get into a runoff, though we’ll be ready to fight a runoff if necessary,” Ossoff said at a recent campaign stop. “The campaign’s goal is to win this election outright on April 18.”

With polls showing Ossoff hovering around 40 percent of the vote, that seems unlikely. And the odds are daunting in the runoff. There are 11 Republicans in the April 18 contest, and they are feuding with each other for the same slice of voters and donors. But the full weight of the GOP is expected to be behind whichever Republican lands the runoff spot. The White House, too, has pledged to help; top Trump adviser Stephen Bannon is said to be closely monitoring the race.

The district — which spans from east Cobb County to north DeKalb County — has been in GOP hands since the 1970s, and losing it would be an epic embarrassment for Republicans and Trump’s new administration. Tom Price, who vacated the congressional seat to become Trump’s health secretary, routinely scored double-digit victories since first winning the seat in 2004. But the president barely carried the district in November, giving hope to Democrats eager to turn this race — considered the most competitive congressional race in the nation since Trump’s victory — into an early test of his presidency.

For now, Ossoff has far more financial firepower than his GOP rivals, and he has enough to keep his ad blitz on the airwaves into the summer.

Former Johns Creek Councilman Bob Gray and ex-state Sen. Dan Moody — both millionaire executives — were also expected to dip into their personal fortunes to foot some of their campaign bills.

But they are largely focused on competing with other Republicans — and not Ossoff — for what seems likely to be a sole spot in the runoff.

National Republican groups have rushed to try to fill that void, worried that the Democrat could hand them an early black eye.

The National Republican Congressional Committee last week launched an attack ad depicting Ossoff as a stooge of U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who will “try and stop our Republican majority that’s getting things done.”

That’s on top of a $2.2 million blitz by the Congressional Leadership Fund, which has at turns cast Ossoff as an inexperienced party boy with footage of him dressed as Han Solo from his Georgetown University days or a resume-inflater who improperly boasts about his experience as an adviser to Democratic U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson of Lithonia. Ossoff and his campaign have dismissed claims that he overstated his background as an aide who helped craft national security policy, and he released a timeline showing he also had five months of “top secret” clearance.

The Republican National Committee plans to add nine additional staffers to the six already fanned out across the district and to open a second office in the north Atlanta suburbs. Dozens of voter training sessions are in the works to counter the grass-roots army that’s mustered for Ossoff.

An overwhelming number of Ossoff’s contributors live far outside the 6th District but were drawn to his campaign. His contributions came from nearly 200,000 donors who gave an an average of $42.52.

Alan Berns of Boston called himself a “proud citizen of an obviously blue and very progressive state” who wanted to channel his money to candidates who needed it. He said he opposes both Trump and Price — which he said gave him more reason to donate to Ossoff.

“Ultimately, his victory would send an important message to our new president that there are certain values at our core that he should not mess with,” said Berns, a 70-year-old retiree.

Georgia Republicans are preparing to hunker down. Former U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a potential GOP contender for governor, said an Ossoff victory could send a discomfiting signal to Republicans in Georgia and otherwise red territory.

“This guy gets in the runoff and every Democrat in America — if not the world — is going to send him money,” Westmoreland said on GPB’s “Political Rewind.” “They’re going to use that as a launching pad … to say, ‘See, he can do it.’ ”

6th Congressional District special election

A field of 18 candidates is running in a special election to represent the 6th Congressional District, which stretches from east Cobb County across north Fulton County to north DeKalb County. The seat opened when Tom Price vacated it to become President Donald Trump’s secretary of health and human services. The election is set for April 18, and with such a large number of candidates, a runoff is almost certain. It would be held June 20.


VIDEO: Where is Tom Price’s former congressional district?
Tom Price’s congressional seat is vacant since he accepted a position in the Trump administration.

About the Authors