Abrams files lawsuit to use fundraising law meant to aid Kemp

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams filed a federal lawsuit Monday seeking court approval to use a law that gives Republican Gov. Brian Kemp a massive fundraising advantage in his reelection bid this year.

The challenge asks the court to require state officials to let her use a leadership committee under a law approved last year by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

The lawsuit says Abrams’ campaign has already created such a committee, One Georgia, and it has been raising money since shortly after she filed to run against Kemp earlier this month.

The law lets the governor, the opposing party’s gubernatorial nominee and party caucuses raise as much cash as they can throughout the campaign, including during legislative sessions. It gave incumbents an added edge, since their challengers can’t use the funds until they win their party’s nomination.

Abrams’ lawyers argue that she should be treated as the Democratic nominee now, rather than wait for the May 24 primary, since she didn’t draw a primary opponent. U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, filed an affidavit declaring Abrams the nominee.

Abrams’ campaign filed the leadership committee paperwork with the state ethics commission, the agency responsible for policing campaign finance laws.

David Emadi, executive secretary of the state ethics commission, said Monday, “The commission does not determine whether someone is or is not a party’s nominee for office.

“Whether a candidate has been elected as a party’s nominee prior to any votes being cast or elections certified is a decision to be made by the secretary of state in consultation with the Department of Law, and we are awaiting guidance from them on that matter.”

The leadership committee law gives Kemp a decided fundraising advantage. There are limits on how much a candidate can raise from an individual or business interest. There are none for leadership committees, so they can collect huge checks from donors. The committees can coordinate with candidate reelection campaigns as well.

As of Jan. 31, Kemp’s leadership committee had taken in at least $2.3 million since it was formed in June. That is on top of the $12 million the governor has reported having in his campaign account.

Abrams, who was a fundraising powerhouse when she ran for governor in 2018, would surely rival Kemp’s haul. In her most recent disclosure, Abrams reported amassing $9.2 million in December and January. Access to unlimited donations gives her a new tool to court her nationwide network of donors.

In the opening months of the campaign, Abrams and former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who is challenging Kemp in the Republican primary, have struck an alliance criticizing the leadership committee system. Both have framed it as an unfair law designed to help Kemp, and Perdue challenged it in court.

A federal judge ruled in Perdue’s favor, issuing a decision in February that said the fund can’t be used to help the governor win his primary. However, the judge’s ruling held that Kemp’s fund can continue to receive unlimited donations if the money isn’t spent directly on the governor’s primary campaign.