Georgia Republican Party ramps up legal spending for indicted electors

As Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis prepared to indict former President Donald Trump and 18 others in a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election in August, the state Republican Party’s legal bills mounted.

The state party has ramped up fundraising to defend its GOP electors indicted in the Trump case, and federal reports show it spent about $370,000 in July and August on legal fees. Earlier this summer The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the Georgia GOP had spent more than $500,000 on legal fees in the first half of 2023, much of it to represent those involved in the Trump investigation.

In all, the Georgia GOP has spent more than $1 million on legal fees since the beginning of last year, most of it for the Trump election interference case.

Among those indicted in the case were former Georgia Republican Chair David Shafer, state Sen. Shawn Still and former Coffee County GOP Chair Cathy Latham, three of the 16 Georgians who claimed to be legitimate presidential electors for Trump in 2020, even though the former president lost the election to Democrat Joe Biden.

The state party spent more in legal fees in July and August than it did in all of 2022.

The steep legal bills are one reason Gov. Brian Kemp has distanced himself from the state GOP and continues to build his own fundraising organization to mobilize Georgia Republicans.

The GOP financial arrangement came into clearer focus earlier this year when Shafer announced he wouldn’t seek another term and praised the party’s executive committee for agreeing to cover the legal fees in his farewell dispatch.

“I have raised the money to honor that commitment,” he wrote in a note to activists, “so that none of them have had to pay a penny out of pocket.”

Shafer has since been replaced as party chair by former state Sen. Josh McKoon.

The electors, who met the same day in December 2020 that the state’s electors cast Georgia’s votes in the Electoral College for Biden, submitted to state and federal authorities documents that claimed they were the “duly elected” electors from the state, which they said Trump won.

Several electors have said they participated in the ceremony in case pro-Trump legal challenges were successful.

At least eight of the “alternate” presidential electors in 2020 accepted immunity deals with the Fulton County district attorney’s office in exchange for their testimony, according to the lawyer representing the group.

Shafer’s attorneys have cited the actions of Hawaii Democrats during the razor-thin 1960 presidential election in that state as a historic precedent. They’ve also argued the electors were following legal advice and were acting as federal officials as they cast their votes.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones recently rejected bids by Shafer, Still and Latham to move their cases so they would be heard by a federal jury. The federal circuit includes more heavily Republican areas north of Atlanta, so the jury pool could be more conservative than one in Fulton County.

One of the firms representing the electors who cut immunity deals, Strickland Debrow, was paid about $315,000 during the first eight months of the year by the state party, according to disclosures. That’s on top of $170,000 last year.

Holly Pierson of Pierson Law, who represents Shafer, was paid at least $47,000 in attorney fees by the Georgia GOP during the first eight months of the year. She was paid at least $52,000 in attorney fees by the Georgia GOP last year.

Craig Gillen, who is also representing Shafer, was paid more than $100,000 by the Republican Party during the first eight months of 2023.

The biggest payment in recent months was $200,000 to Smith Gambrell & Russell, which is representing Still, according to federal records.

The escalating costs of the litigation have forced the defendants to seek new ways to raise cash. Latham and Shafer have both turned to the Christian-based crowdfunding site GiveSendGo to help raise cash. Shafer has raised just shy of $30,000, and Latham has collected more than $21,000.

McKoon, meanwhile, is aggressively courting donors to write big checks.

“We will fight against those who want to destroy the legal system that has been the envy of western democratic governments in service of their personal political agenda,” McKoon’s recent fundraising appeal stated.