A federal judge ruled Thursday that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams can’t use a state law created to give Gov. Brian Kemp a major fundraising advantage in their possible rematch this year.
Judge Mark Cohen telegraphed his written decision during a Monday hearing in the case when he said Abrams won’t be the Democratic nominee for governor until her uncontested May 24 primary. Being the party’s nominee is a requirement for using the leadership committee law approved last year by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
“Granting plaintiffs’ requested relief ... would require this court to effectively rewrite the statute to recognize Abrams as the Democratic Party nominee before she has been selected in a primary,” Cohen wrote.
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 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.
However, Cohen said Monday that state law is clear that “Stacey Abrams is not the nominee” and that Abrams’ campaign was asking him to re-write state law by declaring her the Democratic nominee before the primary.
Cohen also noted that the Abrams campaign decided to ask to be allowed to use a leadership committee instead of questioning whether Kemp should be allowed, under the law passed last year, to have an advantage no other candidate possessed.
The leadership committee law gives Kemp a potentially massive 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.
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. 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 can continue to receive unlimited donations to use in the general election campaign.
If Kemp wins his GOP primary, he faces a re-match with Abrams of their closely fought 2018 contest, which the Republican narrowly won.