Big-name Georgia Democrats aren’t the only ones raking in millions from out-of-state donors

Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue speaks at a rally for President Donald Trump in October at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon. Georgia is a competitive state during the current election cycle and has drawn lots of campaign spending from groups outside the state. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue speaks at a rally for President Donald Trump in October at Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon. Georgia is a competitive state during the current election cycle and has drawn lots of campaign spending from groups outside the state. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Republicans have spent the past two years telling Georgians that top Democrats Stacey Abrams and Jon Ossoff are funded by Hollywood liberals, but big-money national groups have supplied the bulk of the state GOP’s funding in 2020.

About $20 million of the $27 million the Georgia Republican Party has raised during the 2020 election cycle — through last week — came from outside the state. The biggest donor this cycle has been the Republican National Committee, at $15.4 million, with an additional $3 million coming from President Donald Trump’s campaign.

Another Washington-based Republican political action committee has pumped about $2 million into legislative races, much of it in a bid to defeat its top national target, state House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, R-Luthersville.

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Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said his chamber’s PAC had to raise money locally, but even that group, which has collected about $3.4 million to help GOP House members, has gotten one-third of its money from out-of-state companies and groups with interest in legislation and contracts.

None of that is unusual in an expensive election year, with even more out-of-state money flowing into Georgia to buy ads hammering U.S. Sen. David Perdue and his opponent, Ossoff, in their closely contested race. National groups, business organizations and corporations have long helped fund races in Georgia.

But Republicans have increasingly accused Democrats of being funded by Hollywood liberals on TV and in mailings, all at the same time when high-profile GOP campaigns are getting millions from Washington-area committees and corporations from across the country.

State reports show the Georgia Democratic Party has raised about $8.5 million this election cycle, about one-third as much as the GOP. Of that, $5 million in contributions and in-kind donations, such as mailings, came from Fair Fight PAC, the political action committee for the voting rights group that Stacey Abrams started after she lost the 2018 gubernatorial election.

The group — which has raised $33 million — has also helped Democratic Party organizations in several other states and legislative candidates in Georgia.

Most of Fair Fight’s money comes from out-of-state donations, some of it from California and some of it from the famous. For instance, in its October report, it listed getting $50,000 from comedian and longtime TV star Conan O’Brien and his wife, Elizabeth, a writer. It listed $10,000 from singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman.

Last year, it got $5 million from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Democratic mega-funder. While Fair Fight has raised about $6 million from California donors, only $250 of that has a Hollywood address.

The PAC, like Abrams' record-breaking campaign in 2018, also got small-dollar contributions from thousands of donors across the country.

In Ossoff’s latest report, fewer than 1 in 5 individuals who donated at least $200 to his campaign last quarter listed Georgia addresses, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s analysis of Federal Election Commission data.

Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer said the $20 million the GOP has raised from out-of-state donors doesn’t tell the whole story. He said the state party had a joint fundraising deal with national groups to share donations. Some of the money coming from the Republican National Committee, he said, was originally contributed by Georgians to the fundraising pot that was then distributed.

“Some of that was Georgia money,” he said.

The RNC and other GOP groups are spending record amounts in Georgia because it has become a competitive state. Trump and Georgia’s two Republican U.S. senators, Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, are in tough races. The Republican majority in the Georgia House is trying to fend off surging Democrats, who picked up 11 seats during the 2018 elections.

The party that holds the state House and Senate will be able to draw voting district lines next year that could help them maintain their majorities during the 2020s.

Both Republican chambers have raised millions, spending much of the money, like the state GOP, on last-minute mailings hoping to sway voters.

Ralston said of his chamber’s House Republican Trust: “We have had to look for real Georgians to invest in our campaign efforts. We don’t have Hollywood money ... or Martha’s Vineyard money.”

Most of the approximately $3.4 million raised this cycle came from inside Georgia, much of it from lobbyists, business associations and groups interested in shaping legislation or gaining state contracts.

But the committee also received more than $130,000 from cigarette and e-cigarette makers from California, North Carolina and Virginia. Bills are annually filed in the General Assembly to raise the state’s tobacco tax — which is among the lowest in the country — but the legislation never gains traction.

The trust has received $415,000 from a couple of Washington-area Republican PACs; $129,000 from Florida-based Hospital Corporation of America; $25,000 from an Indiana-based horse-racing group; $15,000 from Kansas-based Koch Industries, a longtime Republican mega-donor; and $12,500 from a Reno, Nevada, sports betting machine firm.

Georgia has been labeled the Hollywood of the South because it offers the most generous tax credit for filmmakers in the country. So Hollywood is also represented among the House Republican Trust donors: The Motion Picture Association of America of Sherman Oaks, California, contributed $5,000 this election cycle.

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