In a hearing Thursday, Cohen called the leadership committee law “unprecedented” because it set up a scenario where one person — the governor — can do something his challengers can’t: raise unlimited money before the primary.
“He’s the only candidate in the state of Georgia who can have a leadership committee right now,” Cohen said.
The judge compared it to the General Assembly passing a law saying the governor — and only the governor — can ignore legal limits on how much individuals and businesses can donate.
In his ruling, Cohen wrote, “Allowing Governor Kemp’s re-election campaign to be the beneficiary of unlimited contributions raised through a leadership committee he chairs while, at the same time, Abrams is restricted to the statutory limit of $7,600 by Georgia law is ‘antithetical to the First Amendment.’
“The public has no legitimate interest in the enforcement of an unconstitutional statute.”
After the ruling, Abrams campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo said, “We are pleased the court both recognized and offered a remedy today for the unconstitutional fundraising advantage Brian Kemp signed into law benefiting himself.
“After months and months of Brian Kemp having exclusive ability to raise unlimited funds as a result of the bill he signed, Kemp will no longer be able to raise these funds while Stacey Abrams and (her leadership committee) One Georgia are denied equal ability to operate under the same rules.”
Kemp campaign officials had no comment on the ruling.
The governor’s leadership committee — Georgians First — was formed last year days after the law he signed went into effect.
It gave Kemp a massive edge. There are limits on how much a candidate can raise from an individual or business interest that don’t apply to leadership committees, so they can collect huge checks from donors.
Statewide candidates, such as those running for governor, are currently allowed to raise $7,600 from individual donors for the primary and again for the general election, plus $4,500 per runoff.
In contrast, Kemp’s leadership committee had taken checks up to $250,000 from individual donors in its first few months of operation.
As of Jan. 31, Kemp’s leadership committee had taken in at least $2.3 million since it was formed in July. That is on top of the $12 million the governor has reported having in his campaign account.
In the opening months of the campaign for governor, Abrams and Perdue struck an alliance criticizing the leadership committee system. Both have framed it as an unfair law designed to help Kemp.
Perdue challenged it in court.
Cohen 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 could continue to receive unlimited donations to use in the general election campaign as long as the money isn’t spent directly on the governor’s primary campaign.
If Kemp wins his GOP primary, he faces a rematch with Abrams. The Republican narrowly won a closely fought contest with her in 2018.
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