Capitol Recap: Georgia Republican campaign autopsy focuses little on losses

A roundup of news about government and politics in the Peach State

GOP report highlights party’s good work, not election defeats

In 2020, a Republican presidential candidate did not win Georgia for the first time in seven election cycles. The GOP followed that up in January with defeats in both U.S. Senate runoffs, costing the party control of that chamber.

You might have missed that news if you were relying on the state Republican Party’s “After Action Report” on the election. The document makes only brief mention of those losses.

These post-election reports often focus on the errors made, hoping to provide a teachable moment for future candidates.

Instead, the autopsy that the Georgia GOP recently distributed at district meetings across the state — and which The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained — focused on all it thought went right for the party.

It made a big deal out of the influence former President Donald Trump still holds over the state GOP, even though his lies about widespread election fraud inspired the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and likely deterred Republican turnout for the Senate runoffs.

Trump even makes the cover page of the report with an endorsement of Georgia GOP Chair David Shafer: “HE NEVER GAVE UP!”

One purpose of the report appears to be touting the pro-Trump efforts of Shafer, who is seeking reelection as head of the state party.

The other purpose is apparently to single out a fellow Republican, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, as the villain of the saga.

Much of it clings to Trump’s false claims that widespread election fraud caused his loss in Georgia, and it blames Raffensperger for “foolish legal settlements and feckless ‘emergency’ rules” that addressed the coronavirus pandemic.

The report boasts about the lawsuits the party filed against Raffensperger seeking to overturn the election, but it doesn’t say how ineffective those suits were, that judges found them lacking in proof and quickly dismissed them.

It also does not mention that Raffensperger and other officials found no evidence of widespread irregularities that could have affected the presidential election’s outcome. Three separate tallies, conducted by hand and machine, confirmed Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over Trump. An audit of absentee ballot signatures also found no cases of fraud.

Joseph Brannan, a Shafer ally and the state GOP treasurer, defended the report, calling it a “great summary of the work done by the grassroots” under Shafer’s leadership that “tells the story of the unprecedented level of engagement” by the party.

Democrats at least found it enjoyable reading.

“If the Georgia GOP defines success as losing the presidency, both U.S. Senate seats and a House seat, we wish them nothing but success going forward,” said Scott Hogan, the executive director of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

Credit: Brandon Phillips

Credit: Brandon Phillips

Newcomer activists embolden state GOP

The high turnout of rookies at recent GOP meetings in 13 of the state’s 14 congressional districts proved pleasing to Georgia Republicans.

The swell of newcomers hark back to Republican meetings in 2016, when Donald Trump, as a presidential candidate, brought in new supporters to party gatherings typically dominated by establishment figures or long-standing volunteers.

In all, state GOP Chair David Shafer said the district meetings saw record turnout and that roughly half of the participants were first-timers.

More than half of the 274 delegates in west Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District raised their hands when former state Sen. Josh McKoon asked how many were first-time participants.

In the 2nd Congressional District, Party Chair Brandon Phillips posted a picture of dozens of newcomers with the caption: “Y’all better keep up in Atlanta.”

Metro Atlanta did.

Marci McCarthy, the chair of the DeKalb County GOP, reported a surge of new faces “who are turning their anger into action and advocacy” by signing up as convention delegates for the first time.

And Brad Carver of the 11th Congressional District, which covers a stretch of Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, said more than half of the delegates to the convention there had never attended a GOP meeting before this election cycle.

Veteran activists welcomed the new members but also stressed the need for party unity at a time when Trump’s feuds with Republican officials have exacted damage.

Gov. Brian Kemp, for example, has faced attacks from grassroots Republicans angry that he refused to overturn the election results.

“The only way back to where we need to be is getting everyone back to wearing the Team R logo and behind Gov. Kemp,” said John Wood, a longtime conservative grassroots leader from coastal Georgia. “That’s where victory lies.”

Recurring donations no longer the default on Loeffler group’s website

Greater Georgia — a voter registration group created by former Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler that also advocates for conservative policies — recently made a change on the donate page of its website, no longer making recurring contributions to the organization the default setting for those who want to give.

The move came after Loeffler had to refund millions of dollars raised by the site for her unsuccessful campaign for reelection, which also had made donors opt out to ensure donations were one-time gifts and not recurring contributions.

The switch brings Greater Georgia in line with other political entities in the state. No member of Georgia’s congressional delegation has a website that automatically signs up donors for recurring contributions. Each offers that choice, but it’s up to donors to opt in.

Criticism of automatically recurring donations intensified after an April report in The New York Times drew widespread attention to the practice and the massive refunds that followed last year’s election cycle.

The Times reported that from late November through December, the campaigns for Loeffler and then-U.S. Sen. David Perdue issued a combined $4.8 million in refunds. That amount was “more than triple the amount refunded by their Democratic rivals via ActBlue, even though the Democrats had raised far more money online,” the Times reported.

The recurring donations became a transparency issue for Loeffler during her January runoff campaign and likely played a part in millions of dollars in refunds to donors. Loeffler’s campaign made more than 1,000 refunds to individual donors; about 82% of those who received the refunds made more than one contribution during the runoff portion of the election.

It is impossible to know from campaign expense reports alone what percentage of refunds from any candidates’ accounts were tied to recurring donations.

During the runoff campaign, Loeffler, Perdue and then-President Donald Trump all sent fundraising appeals that included pre-checked boxes for contributions to repeat on a weekly basis.

Loeffler’s most recent campaign finance report, which covers late January through the end of March, showed an additional $1.1 million in refunds. Perdue refunded just $27,099 during that time.

Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, who defeated Perdue and Loeffler, respectively, also issued a large number of refunds during the most recent reporting period. Their totals, $814,660 for Ossoff and $455,151 for Warnock, still lag behind Loeffler.

Both Warnock’s and Ossoff’s teams said those refunds were largely due to people who donated more than the federal limits for individuals, which was generally $2,800. Neither candidate used pre-checked boxes during the campaign season to automatically sign up donors for recurring payments, their representatives said.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Panel moves forward on bills to increase legislators’ pensions

Efforts in recent years to boost the pay of Georgia lawmakers have fallen short, including this year when a 70% raise went down to defeat.

The legislators might see their fortunes improve if they wait until they finish the job.

Three bills advanced through a state House panel this past week that could increase the pensions of lawmakers up to 67%.

House Speaker David Ralston could see his pension triple.

The House Retirement Committee voted to do actuarial studies on the three bills — all filed in the final days of the 2021 session. The studies — which essentially determine the cost of the bills — have to be completed before the committee can formally act on legislation during the 2022 session, which begins in January.

One of the bills filed this year, House Bill 838, by Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, would increase Ralston’s pension from about $11,000 a year to almost $38,000. That’s about the average pension of a retired teacher in Georgia.

Fleming said that would put the speaker’s pension more in line with other full-time state employees. The pension for Ralston, who is paid about $99,000 a year, is currently calculated under the same formula as that of rank-and-file members: $36 a month times years in office.

House Bill 824 by Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, would bump up the pension benefit from $36 per month times years in office to $60. That would mean a lawmaker with 20 years in the General Assembly would be eligible for an annual pension of $14,400, rather than the $8,640 he or she would currently receive.

The third bill, House Bill 845, by Rep. Tom Kirby, R-Loganville, would up the benefit to $50 per month per year in office or give lawmakers 38% of their legislative pay, whichever is higher.

Most lawmakers currently earn a part-time salary of $17,324 a year. Thirty-eight percent of that would amount to nearly $6,600 a year.

Similar proposals won approval from the Georgia House in 2018, but after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on them, they stalled in the Senate.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Lieutenant governor confirms he’s not running in 2022

There had been talk for some time that Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan would not seek reelection next year, and this past week he confirmed it.

Instead, Duncan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he will push a plan he calls “GOP 2.0″ to fix a faltering national political party he says is still too focused on the 2020 election.

“We’re going to have to heal and rebuild to get ourselves back,” he said. “I see this as an opportunity — a moment in time we can change the trajectory of the Republican Party that can last a generation.”

The lieutenant governor would have faced a difficult campaign for a second term after he repeatedly criticized former President Donald Trump through social media posts and appearances on cable TV shows for lying about widespread election fraud in Georgia.

In the AJC interview, the Republican from Forsyth County said Trump’s phony conspiracy theories about a “rigged” election have dealt lasting damage to his party that led to Democratic sweeps in the January U.S. Senate runoffs that flipped control of the chamber.

That kind of talk has made Duncan — along with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and, to a lesser extent, Gov. Brian Kemp — a whipping boy within the state GOP for standing in the way of efforts to overturn Trump’s loss in Georgia.

Grassroots activists have adopted resolutions at official Republican gatherings to “censure” Duncan or call on him to resign.

Duncan said he will serve the final 19 months of his term, and he did not back down on his criticism of Trump and others advancing falsehoods about the 2020 election.

“Any narrative from a Republican that the election was stolen, that it was a rigged election, is wasted energy, he said. “And it only continues to make the pathway to winning for Democrats even easier.”

While Duncan’s exit from Georgia’s No. 2 job was expected, other high-profile Republicans waited until he confirmed it before revealing their plans.

Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller filed paperwork to run for the seat shortly after Duncan announced his decision, and a formal announcement could come in the next week or so. Other potential contenders include state Sens. Steve Gooch and Burt Jones. GOP activist Jeanne Seaver is also running.

Democratic state Reps. Erick Allen and Derrick Jackson have also launched bids.

6th, 7th districts are likely targets for redistricting

Redistricting won’t happen until later this year when the General Assembly takes the data gathered in the 2020 census and redraws Georgia’s congressional and legislative maps.

But the speculation has already begun about how the process will reshape the 2022 elections, with an emphasis on the 6th and 7th congressional districts represented by Democratic U.S. Reps. Lucy McBath of Marietta and Carolyn Bourdeaux of Suwanee, respectively.

Politico offered this glimpse:

“In Georgia, Republicans plan to ax the district of either (Rep. Carolyn) Bourdeaux or Rep. Lucy McBath, leaving the two Democrats to fight over just one blue seat in the northern Atlanta suburbs. Democrats in the state are aware of the looming prospect, and some have quietly begun whispering that Bourdeaux should look into a run for lieutenant governor.”

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

Manswell Peterson, an Albany-based Democrat, has joined the growing list of candidates seeking to unseat Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Peterson, a Navy veteran and former police officer, will first face state Rep. Bee Nguyen of Atlanta in the Democratic primary. The Republican side is more crowded, with former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle, U.S. Rep. Jody Hice and former Treutlen County Probate Judge T.J. Hudson all challenging Raffensperger, who confirmed again this past week that he is running for reelection.

— Magazine publisher Marc McMain of Monroe is running as a Republican for the 10th Congressional District seat U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro, is giving up to run for secretary of state.